Silvia Casalino received the Space Engineering Master degree at Politecnico di Milano (Italy) and École nationale supérieure de l’aéronautique et de l’espace (Toulouse) with a dissertation on ‘Service Time for a Low Earth Orbit Satellite Constellation Messaging System’.

From 2001, she has been working at CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) in Paris. For the first five years she has been in charge of zero gravity launcher attitude control studies as part of the Ariane 5 project. At the moment, she is working as project manager of CNES activity on Vega small launcher development.

Apart from these technical topics, from 1994 Silvia Casalino has also been engaged as DJ and music producer, journalist, and cultural worker on different projects: as music editor for Radio Onda d’Urto Milano (Italy); journalist for Towanda!, Vacarme and GLU magazine; curator of the exhibition Dykestrippers au CDM (Colletivo Donne Milanesi) Milano (Italy); collaboration with the label Kill the DJ as music producer and concert organizer; co-curator of Cortocircuito cycle of exhibitions at Politburo (Paris); feminist film maker Carole Roussopulos interview for Radio Campus Paris.

Mercury 13 -
Woman in space program

ICI Project 2009

During the Space Race between the Soviet Union and the United States, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) informally began running a series of tests on women designed to evaluate their physical potential as astronauts. In 1960, with this objective a group of 13 women civilian pilots reach the Albuquerque Clinic in New Mexico (the clinic where male astronauts undertook their fitness exams).

The thirteen women trained successfully and in many regards had much better results than their male colleagues. But, after a whole year of training, the candidates received a short telegram announcing that the project was being abruptly cancelled. One of those women, Geraldyn Cobb, did not give up and requested a hearing in front of the US Congress on grounds of discrimination. Although she received support from a wide audience, she lost the case. Only a few years later, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova from the USSR became the first woman in space. Americans would wait twenty more years until 1983, before Sally Ride flew on the Challenger space shuttle (Mission STS-7). But where are we today? There are no women in the European Astronaut Corps and there is only one Russian woman astronaut who has been waiting for her first flight for the past ten years. Women make up twenty percent of the US Astronaut Corps, but they account for only one percent of shuttle pilots.

Even though science claims universal validity and despite all supposed neutrality of space research, its workplaces are strongly gendered. They are ninety percent male. Women are paid less, they are not promoted to the highest positions and are more frequently dismissed than men.

The project will draw on material from three different perspectives: the official archives (TV images and film, scientific publications, etc.), stories told by the protagonists (the unofficial versions), and my own personal experience. I would like to develop a form that will show different layers of knowledge and storytelling in confrontation with my own perspective, informed by my scientific work.

I will use Donna Haraway’s methods to conceptualize the different layers of tension in my project (tension and international relations, gender tensions, physical tension) and I will try to go beyond dichotomies such as nature/culture and femininity/masculinity, without rejecting technology altogether.