It is really just an accident that two women are in command of the space shuttle and the space station at the same time, which is a historic first in space.
Peggy Whitson is a lithe, brainy blond who has an encyclopedic knowledge of the space station, with a penchant for really cute shoes, who by all accounts is the perfect person for the job of commander of the International Space Station. This is her second trip to space; she spent six months on the space station in 2002.
Pam Melroy, the commander of Discovery STS 120, has flown as a shuttle pilot on missions in 2000 and 2002. She has the personality of the girl next door, who also happens to be a highly decorated Air Force pilot who flew in Desert Storm. She loves to dance and watch funny movies with her circle of friends, dubbed the Tank Girls Film Society.
She said she told everyone she met in high school that she was going to be an astronaut. "It was like, 'Hi my name is Pam Melroy and I am going to be an astronaut,' and I think it was all like one word: 'iampammelroy- andiamgoingtobeanastronaut.'"
The two women are a public relations dream team for NASA. But Whitson insists the timing of this historic first is pure happenstance.
"It's really just coincidence that this is happening at this point in time. But I do think it is meaningful in the sense that it is the first time it happened, but it just is an indication of where we are heading and where we are going in the future. The significance, I would hope, isn't something that is overdramatized."
Melroy insists to focus on the two of them would be to miss the point. This, she says, is not about us.
"That's what we mean when we say it is just a coincidence. We are very lucky. We are very blessed to have born in the years we were born, and have the doors open ahead of us so we could walk through them at the right time. It isn't about us. It's more about our culture and society and the fact that this is just where we have headed and this is where we are now, and this is neat."
Pilot George Zamka is one of Melroy's colleagues on STS 120. He says she is a great commander:
"I have watched her to see how she does it as a commander, and the things that I am impressed with, she has a tremendous level of attention to detail, and a tremendous ability to stay focused on these details for a very long time, and it was more than I thought I could ever do, and I was a little intimidated at how she could track down items related to our mission, things like photo TV, she tracks all the EVAs [extravehicular activities] what is going on with those. She has her hands on just about every little part of the mission, and there is so much going on that I think that is a pretty respectable bit of work and I just hope I can do as well, should it come my time someday."
Melroy is an incredible person, according to Scott Parazynski, one of the spacewalkers on this mission. "She is full of energy, incredibly technically competent, but knows how to have a good time, knows also when things need to get done and decisions need to get made, she is there to make them. She listens well and is not a dictatorial kind of person. She gives people a lot of leeway to take responsibility for the things they are responsible for, she wants to know about them so she can do their job better, I am thrilled for her. She is very modest. It really is a very significant milestone with her and Peggy flying this mission together."