Reaching Out to the Stars
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Portrait of Maria Mitchell, H. Dassell, 1851
Science

Reaching Out to the Stars

The Life of Maria Mitchell
Julia Fiedorczuk
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time 14 minutes

Maria Mitchell – the first American woman astronomer, who discovered the comet known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s Comet’ – did not have a university education. Yet her knowledge was unmatched; her intelligence and personal class remarkable. She was prepared to question all authorities: those in the world of science, and those who dictated social norms and customs (including norms preventing women’s access to knowledge). In leaving her native island of Nantucket, she was determined to devote her life to the intellectual culture of women.

Question everything

“There is something elevating in the study of any of the natural sciences, and especially there must be in the study of other worlds. When we are chafed and fretted by small cares, a look at the stars will show us the littleness of our own interests,” said Maria Mitchell in 1865. She was greeting her students at Vassar College – the first American college for women, founded four years earlier by Matthew Vassar, a successful brewer from Poughkeepsie, New York. Vassar, an exceptional man, believed that women should enjoy the same access to knowledge as men. He also maintained that women students needed women teachers as role models.

Mitchell, the first American woman astronomer who could boast the discovery of a comet (officially referred to as C/1847T1, informally known as ‘Miss Mitchell’s comet’), did not have a university education, nor any experience of teaching at such an advanced level. But her knowledge of astronomy was unmatched, her literary competence – especially when it came to poetry – impressive, and her intelligence and personal class remarkable. Vassar did not doubt that Mitchell should be the first professor in his new school. Having completed only three years of formal education himself, he was able to appreciate the rebellious spirit of a woman who professed the dictum: “We cannot accept anything

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Watercolours Under a Spacesuit
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From Galina Balashova's archives/DOM publishers
Science

Watercolours Under a Spacesuit

The Story of Galina Balashova
Konstanty Usenko

Androids may dream of electric sheep, but Soviet cosmonauts dream of flowery meadows and white birch tree-trunks. Fortunately, there was someone who painted their dreams and sent them along up into space.

The Soviet space-exploration dream left its mark in various forms. There are monuments and streets named after Yuri Gagarin in most cities and towns, numerous Cosmonaut Avenues and Cosmonaut Boulevards, countless statues of rockets and sputniks. There are space-themed murals and mosaics on buildings and bus stops, as well as sports venues and brutalist-style circus buildings shaped like flying saucers. There is also science-fiction literature, electronic music played on Soviet analogue synthesizers that once blasted from speakers in parks and department stores, and children’s films such as Visitor from the Future and Adventures of the Electronic. There are all the posters, stamps and pennants you can still find at any of the Russian barakholki, or flea markets. In the early 1980s, smoke-enwreathed dance floors were filled with dancers bopping to the hit of the band Zemlyane (meaning ‘Earthlings’): “Earth in the viewpoint that I see / Like a son missing his mother / We miss our Earth – we have but one […]”.

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