Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tanya Goes to Washington

After a whirlwind mini-tour to our nation’s capital for my new book, Almost Astronauts, I decided it made sense to share the experience with you here. A sort of virtual show-and-tell, if you will. The old elementary school days of show-and-tell are really what helped sow the seeds of my writing life, after all. Discovering something new, finding out more about it, and then presenting it to my classmates was the ultimate rush when I was six and seven. And it’s the same rush I feel now when I get to stand up in front of a crowd of people and say, “Hey listen to this, you’re not going to believe what I found out!”

I got to do just that last weekend, to several different groups of kids. First stop was the Sheridan School, where I showed them a slide presentation, highlighting some of the tests the "Mercury 13" women went through when they were tested to be astronaut candidates. I told them how even with stunning testing results, the women were still kept out of the program, and some of the reasons why--including a few American heroes behaving badly who really put the kibosh on the whole program. The kids amazed me with the depth and breadth of their questions, and their grasp of the entire story. The next morning at Politics & Prose, as the CSPAN cameraman was setting up an audience mike that the 5th grade girls coming in were supposed to use for questions, I worried that they might be shy. It’s not easy to get up in front of people, walk to a mike, and ask questions in public. Boy was I wrong! Those kids popped up off the floor as soon as the Q&A started, and get this—there wasn’t a single repeat question and every question was directly related to the book and my presentation. Hey DC—your kids are AMAZING!

On Saturday it was on to the Smithsonian’s National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C., for their annual Women in Aviation & Space Day at the location in Chantilly. If you haven’t been, check it out—it is an incredible museum set in a hangar with air and space craft in it such as the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird (the fastest jet in the world), the space shuttle “Enterprise,” and even Betty Skelton’s Lil Stinker, which is shown in Almost Astronauts.

When I arrived, two things had me squealing like a little kid right off the bat. The first was realizing that I had just walked under Betty’s aforementioned plane and was looking up at the craft she had explained with such love and affection when I interviewed her. The second was that Nicole Malachowski, the first woman to become a Thunderbird and whom I featured in the book, was speaking on the flyway just a few feet away. Moving closer to hear her speak, I was thrilled when she caught my eye and waved. When she was done we had a chance to catch up and she told me how excited she was about the book and that she had it on her coffee table at home.

Giving a talk in this location was surreal, especially when I turned to see that the person who had popped in to help advance my slides was none other than Margaret Weitekamp, curator at the NASM and author/expert of the first book written for adults on the “Mercury 13” women. It was her doctoral work that uncovered the smoking gun in our story—and she wrote the foreword for my book.

Oh, and did I mention the Girl Scouts? Thousands of Girl Scouts went through the museum that day, earning their aviation badges by listening to the talks and experiencing the exhibits. It was a great day for women in aviation and space and I felt just like that six-year-old version of me again—spouting show-and-tell to a live audience. Nonfiction—oh the places you will go!


Jeannine said...

What an exciting tour! What an exciting book! I look forward to reading it!
Jeannine Atkins

Loreen Leedy said...

What a great experience, thanks for sharing your travels. We’re big space fans (of course, my husband works at KSC, so it’s only natural!)

Anonymous said...


What a cool story. And I heard the folks at National Geographic are crazy about your book! Also, *I* want an aviation badge. Where was that when I was a scout? Thanks for this great post. -- Wren