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Tag Archive: Christa McAuliffe


Review by C.J. Bunce

Originally published last year in the UK as A Galaxy of Her Own: Amazing Stories of Women in Space, writer Libby Jackson, flight controller and flight director for the European Space Agency, brings her biographies for grade schoolers to U.S. readers re-titled as Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space.  An introduction to the space programs of the past and present for girls and boys, Galaxy Girls goes beyond being an assemblage of one-page stories of astronauts, looking back to women of many backgrounds and careers who heavily influenced the progress of space exploration, including many outside the field of aeronautics.  Most of the women in the book were not astronauts or “in space” as the title suggests, but it’s fair to say Earth’s space programs would not have been as successful–or continued to survive this long–without them.

Most fascinating is the scope of the book.  Readers will encounter standouts from expected fields including scientists and pilots, but also lawyers, doctors, textile workers and seamstresses, and women in the early roles as “computers” themselves.  The career path that women selected for the book took the most was that of engineer, but Jackson also includes others, like actress Nichelle Nichols, who, in addition to inspiring young women who would become astronauts from her role on Star Trek, assisted NASA in broadening their recruitment efforts in the 1970s and onward.  Wives of astronauts of years past are also spotlighted as influential and key to space exploration, and even the first woman tourist in space is included.

Readers will meet several women famous for their landmark firsts: Jeannette Piccard–first woman in the stratosphere, Jacqueline Cochran–first woman to break the sound barrier, Valentina Tereshkova–first woman in space, Eileen Collins–first woman shuttle pilot and commander, Svetlana Savitskaya–first woman spacewalker, and Peggy Whitson–first woman space station commander (who has gone on to create new records surpassing even male astronaut records in the past year since the book was written).  And they’ll learn about women who died in pursuit of space science: Christa McAuliffe, Judy Resnik, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel Clark.  Some of the featured women worked behind the scenes to create the earliest space programs, and others featured are today’s pioneers in aeronautics and engineering, planning Earth’s space programs for tomorrow.

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Big Bird in The Muppet Movie

If you can’t get enough of Sesame Street and The Muppets like this big kid who grew up with these shows and characters, then a 2014 documentary now available on Amazon is just for you.  I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story is a feature-length documentary about the original, and only, Muppets puppeteer who has performed Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch in the 45-year history of Sesame Street.

I Am Big Bird is a love letter of sorts, set to a bittersweet soundtrack.  Filmmakers created an emotional look at a performing artist, his wife, and his relationship with Jim Henson and the cast and performers of Sesame Street from the beginning to the present incarnation of the show.  Spinney comes through as every bit the kindhearted soul of his feathery yellow alter ego.  Highlights of the film include the impact of Big Bird on the world, from teaching little kids from 1969 onward, to being credited in part with the demise of a candidate’s presidential bid.  And nothing is more nostalgic than catching up with original Muppeteer Frank Oz and the original human cast of Sesame Street as they recount working with Caroll, including Bob McGrath (Bob), Sonia Manzano (Maria), Emilio Delgado (Luis), and Roscoe Orman (Gordon).

I am Big Bird poster

Expect to hold back (or not) some tears during the documentary.  Plenty of down moments provide benchmarks in the life and times of Big Bird: the Sesame Street episode featuring Big Bird about the death of Mr. Hooper, an incredibly poised Caroll performing Big Bird singing “It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Green” at the funeral of Jim Henson, and the segment discussing Caroll’s space travel preparation with NASA when he was asked to be among the Challenger space shuttle crew, only to be rejected when they realized the Big Bird suit was too big (and then teacher Christa McAuliffe took his place), a group of ROTC students nearly destroy his Big Bird costume, and even the replacement by Elmo as most popular character on the show serves as a downbeat event.

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