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May 04, 2010 - Image 5

Resource type:
Michigan Daily Summer Weekly, 2010-05-04

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Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com


Naval pioneers



T he pro-military feminist
in me loves Thursdays.
On Thursdays, the female
midshipmen of
the University's
Navy ROTC unit
are dressed in
their uniforms,
hair neatly braid-
ed or arranged in
a bun. And even
though the hats
they're required VA ER
to wear are
kind of ugly, I'm
always proud of them in a patri-
otic, girl-power sort of way.
The women of the University's
Naval ROTC (NROTC) - and
women from NROTC units across
the nation - are about to get a new
service option after college that
women in the Navy have never
had before: They could be chosen
to serve aboard submarines.
According to an Apr. 29 report
by the Navy Times, Navy officials
expect to choose which women
will be the first to join submarine
crews by the end of 2011. Navy
officials first announced plans to
station women on submarines on
Feb. 19 but were required by law
to give Congress time to raise
objections. But the deadline for
congressional intervention passed
at midnight on Apr. 28. Female
officers who will work in engi-
neering positions will be chosen
for submarine jobs from a pool of
officers commissioned since 2008.
The move also creates several
open positions for female supply
I come from a Navy family. My
father served in the Navy and was
a member of the NROTC when
he attended the University in the
1970s. My older sister was in the
NROTC at the University before
she graduated and is currently an
ensign in the Navy. And now, my
younger sister is a member of the
NROTC unit and just completed
her freshman year in the College
of Engineering. All three are (or
will be) engineers.
Most people probably think
that the reason it took the Navy
so long to allow women on sub-
marines stems from deeply
ingrained sexism in the military.
But that's not really the case.
Women haven't been permitted
to serve on submarines largely
for logistical reasons. In fact, it's
been a long time since anyone
thought that women couldn't
hack it during six-month under-
water deployments.
The problem is space. Subma-

rines are already a tight fit, so
tight that members of the crew
often share beds. There isn't much
space to provide women with sep-
arate bathing facilities. Arriving
at a solution to these problems is
why progress took so long, even
though there has been discussion
for years of changing regulations
that allowed only men on sub-
marines. As it is, only the largest
class of submarine, the Ohio class,
will be retrofitted to house crew-
members of both sexes because it
is the only class that won't require
major overhauls.
The Navy is
smart to use all
of its resources.
The Navy should find a way to
tap into all the talent at its dispos-
al, regardless of sex - and they
know it. That's why it has decided
to find a way to utilize its full pool
of resources.
For my sisters and other female
Navy personnel, this could mean
the chance to work with some
impressive technology. U.S. sub-
marines - and aircraft carriers,
on which women have been per-
mitted to serve for years - are
powered by nuclear reactors. To
qualify to operate this advanced
(and expensive) technology,
officers chosen for service on
nuclear-powered vessels have to
complete 15 months of school-
ing in nuclear power. For women,
who have traditionally been less
involved in science and technol-
ogy and have had fewer opportu-
nities in the military, the Navy's
decision is a sign of progress. It's
also a great prospect for women at
colleges like the University who
are qualified to work with nuclear
My older sister was assigned
to the nuclear power program for
surface ships before she gradu-
ated from college, and she is now
eligible to apply for a submarine
position. My younger sister hopes
to qualify for the nuclear program
when she receives her assign-
ment in a few years. They could be
among the first women to serve on
submarines - and that's a pretty
exciting possibility.
- Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily's
2010 editorial page editor. She can
be reached at rachelvg@umich.edu.

Wait- h nr,-
my pr o flX S l'\ t A O '
ply %~rnsl' Oc~ aSm y =ny mo"-
1wanpay afls my( lflOV nar D0yI
- n rC)S- - C A POt
Because it's hard

President Obama should have
tested the announcement
of his plans for NASA in
front of a crowd
of third grad-
ers - and prob-
ably also Captain
Kirk. Their reac-
tion might have
been a better
test of his plan's
quality. Instead,
last month, the NICHOLAS
president flew his CLIFT
jumbo jet to Ken- -
nedy Space Center
to tell NASA his vision for its future.
There were some big names there,
like former astronauts Buzz Aldrin
and John Glenn, NASA Administra-
tor Charles Bolden and a crowd of
engineers, scientists and business
leaders - many of the people who
have defined American space explo-
ration for the last 50 years.
There was plenty of applause in
that room, especially when the presi-
dent announced his $40 million ini-
tiative to create jobs in the areas hit
hardest by the ending of the shuttle
program. It was clear he was mak-
ing changes to his original plan for
the space program, undoubtedly in
response to previous outrage over its
apparent lack of priority. But as he
talked about ending the shuttle pro-
gram or cancelling future trips to the
moon, I would have liked to see the
expression on a third grader's face.
For them, the mystique of the space
program has nothing to do with how
many jobs it creates or the practical
applications of space research. For
them, it's about building "castles
in the sky," as goes the song in the
French film, "Les Choristes." Future
generations need to have a space pro-
gram that inspires them.
When I was in third grade, I had
a space shuttle made of LEGOs.
There were buttons you could press

that would cause it to make rocket
sounds. I loved it. I spent asignificant
portion of my childhood flying that
space shuttle around the living room.
Watching the president's speech and
hearing "Stars and Stripes Forever"
piped through the huge assembly
room in which he spoke, I couldn't
help but feel a little unconvinced that
he really, genuinely understands the
impact the space program has on
young people.
I actually agree with most of the
president's plan. For decades, the
space agency has been bogged down
and demoralized by inconsistent
funding from Congress and the con-
stant threat of mission cancellations.
More recently, President George W.
Bush's NASA plan was incompetently
assembled, unreasonable and impos-
sibly underfunded. His initiative to
put humans back on the moon by
2020 - the Constellation program
- had already fallen horribly behind
schedule and over budget by the time
President Obama came into office.
Obama plans to increase NASA's
funding by $6 billion in the coming
fiscal year. He's cancelling the high-
cost Constellation Program in favor
of using private companies to carry
astronauts to the International Space
Station. He plans to extend the life of
the International Space Station and,
in response to widespread concerns
about the lack of vision in his plan
after the release of his budget weeks
before, the president also said he's
interested in deep space. By 2025,
he hopes to have astronauts visit an
asteroid and by the mid-2030's orbit
Mars. "And a landing on Mars will
follow," he said. "And I expect to be
around to see it."
But "I expect to be around to see
it" is a little less powerful than Ken-
nedy demanding moon landings by
the end of the decade, "not because
they are easy, but because they are
hard." And that's what Obama's plan

is really missing. His new direction
for NASA is hopeful, and it will put
the agency on course for real success
in the future. His goals are clearly
attainable. But the third graders,
the future scientists and engineers,
wouldn't have been clapping.
Reason alone
won't inspire
future engineers.
Space is the dream that drives
many engineers and scientists at this
university. In danger of getting over-
ly sentimental, space was the pas-
sion that pushed me to spend a full
summer in middle school picking up
trash toearnmoneyfor a$600 "Mak-
Cass" telescope and the many cold
nights in the driveway that followed.
It was the dream behind waking up
at 4:30 in the morning to watch the
first images arrive from Huygens'
landing on Titan. And frankly, I
would nothave chosen to study engi-
neering without that dream.
I'm getting all sappy because my
experience is far from unique. For
thousands of young people, the space
program is the indispensible motiva-
tion to study math and science. In a
nation bleeding for scientists and
engineers, we simply can't afford
not to make space a priority. That's
partly why, in his letter to Obama,
the iconic former astronaut Neil
Armstrong called elements of the
president's proposal "devastating."
That's why we need a space program
that third graders - not bureaucrats
- can get excited about.
- Nicholas Clift is a summer
assistant editorial page editor. He can
be reached at nclift@umich.edu.

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