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Space Exploration is not something Chicago Student Mawuto Akploh says she finds in her Textbooks or Classroom discussion in her School

Moses views the opportunity for widely available space flight as a unifying endeavor for humanity, but knows well that the final frontier of space is a difficult environment to master.

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Virgin Galactic- founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, seeking to be the first company consistently taking paying passengers into orbit. Source-Wikimedia commons

Chicago, May 20, 2017: Space exploration is not something Chicago student Mawuto Akploh says she finds in her textbooks or classroom discussion in her school.

“We do physics, biology, earth, and space sciences,” she told VOA. “But we never actually take the time to talk about the people who actually do those things.”

Akploh is originally from Togo and immigrated with her parents to the United States when she was a young child. She now attends a Chicago area high school career academy, and just became certified as an automobile mechanic.

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Akploh says aerospace engineering wasn’t an option at her school.

“It’s not that people don’t want to do it… it’s that people don’t know about it.”

That lack of knowledge has, in part, fueled a shortage of students in the U.S. seeking advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering and math – also known as STEM. Fields the aerospace industry depends on.

“There is a shortage across engineering which I think is generally bad for humanity.” Which is one reason Beth Moses hopes her career serves as an inspiration to others to answer that shortage.

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After successfully serving at NASA as the assembly manager for the International Space Station, Moses is now the chief astronaut trainer at Virgin Galactic, founded by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, seeking to be the first company consistently taking paying passengers into orbit.

“We are doing something, and I am doing something that has never been done before,” she explained to VOA. “There’s no road map, there’s no instruction manual, no guidance on how to do this.”

Which is why, as Moses writes one of the new instruction manuals in the emerging field of commercial human spaceflight, the need for more engineers is critical to help her company – and others – meet the demands of a growing industry that Moses says doesn’t “come in pink or blue.”

“In my entire time, in school and in aerospace engineering both at NASA and here at Virgin Galactic, I’ve never once had any hassle or gender issue, and there have been plenty of women around and also plenty of diversity of all kinds… age, race, points of view.”

It was a message Moses reinforced to those gathered at the Drake Hotel in Chicago, where she was awarded the 2017 “Women in Space Science Award” from the Adler Planetarium’s Women’s Board.

It also was a part of her pitch to hundreds of Chicago area high school students, including Mawuto Akploh, who gathered to see her speak at the place that sparked Moses’ own interest in space… the Adler Planetarium.

In front of a large view screen in the Adler’s theater, the audience was awed by her video presentation showing test flight footage from Virgin Galactic, and what the experience of heading into space as a commercial passenger with her company might look like, when it takes off.

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Moses views the opportunity for widely available space flight as a unifying endeavor for humanity, but knows well that the final frontier of space is a difficult environment to master.

In 2006, Richard Branson told VOA he was hopeful Virgin Galactic would be orbiting the earth soon.

“Twenty-four months from now, my parents, my children and myself shall be popping into space,” he said with a grin.

But a series of setbacks, including a crash in 2014 that led to the death of one of the test spacecraft’s co-pilots, has pushed that timeline back.

Eleven years later, Branson still waits to be his company’s first passenger.

He told British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in April he hopes to see Virgin Galactic’s first sub-orbital flight by the end of 2017.

“We are in the air and we are working our way through a test program,” Moses told VOA. “When it is complete and the vehicle is safe, we’ll start commercial flights with Richard and his family.”

Those are flights that more than 700 passengers have already paid more than $200,000 to experience, reinforcing to students contemplating a career in aerospace engineering that not only is it in demand, it could also be lucrative… something Mawuto Akploh is keeping in mind as she plans for college, where a course of study in physics is her top pick. (VOA)

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Koch to Set Record for Longest Spaceflight by Woman, Will Spend 328 Days in Space

"One month down. Ten to go," Koch wrote Wednesday on Twitter. "Privileged to contribute my best every single day of it"

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astronaut, longest spaceflight, record
FILE - In this April 8, 2019, photo made available by NASA, astronaut and Expedition 59 Flight Engineer Christina Koch works on U.S. spacesuits inside the Quest airlock of the International Space Station. VOA

A female astronaut is due to set a record for the longest spaceflight by a woman, the U.S. space agency said Wednesday, the same astronaut who was to have been in the first all-female spacewalk scrapped over lack of a right-sized spacesuit.

Astronaut Christina Koch, who completed the space walk with a man instead of a female colleague last month, will remain in orbit on board the International Space Station until February, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said.

Part of NASA’s study of the effects of long spaceflights on the human body, Koch will spend 328 days in space.

The 40-year-old astronaut has been in orbit since last month.

“One month down. Ten to go,” Koch wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “Privileged to contribute my best every single day of it.”

astronaut, longest flight
FILE – U.S. astronaut Christina Koch, member of the main crew of the expedition to the International Space Station (ISS), looks on prior the launch of Soyuz MS-12 space ship at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, March 14, 2019. VOA

In late March, NASA canceled what would have been the first all-female spacewalk with Koch and astronaut Anne McClain due to a lack of a spacesuit in the right size for McClain.

The walk was would have occurred during the final week of Women’s History Month.

On board the orbiting space station, astronauts work on a range of experiments in biology, biotechnology, health, earth, space and other sciences.

The typical stay for astronauts is six months, NASA said.

“NASA is looking to build on what we have learned with additional astronauts in space for more than 250 days,” Jennifer Fogarty, a chief scientist for NASA’s Human Research Program, said in a statement.

longest spacecraft, women
Part of NASA’s study of the effects of long spaceflights on the human body, Koch will spend 328 days in space. Pixabay

Record holders

Astronaut Peggy Whitson holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, staying in orbit 288 days in 2016 and 2017, NASA said.

“It’s my honor to follow in Peggy’s footsteps,” Koch said in a video from the International Space Station, orbiting over 200 miles (322 km) above Earth.

ALSO READ: SpaceX Launches Second Supersized ‘Falcon’ Heavy Rocket, For the First Time Lands all Three Boosters

Of the more than 500 people who have traveled to space, fewer than 11 percent have been women. But Koch graduated from NASA’s 2013 class of astronauts that was 50 percent women.

The overall NASA record of 340 days, set in 2016, is held by astronaut Scott Kelly in an experiment to compare his physical and mental health to his identical twin Mark Kelly, who remained on Earth. (VOA)