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Since the beginning of time, humans have been fascinated by space, drawn to the infinite mystery and unknown of the skies above. Though the role of women in space exploration continues to grow, there are still many challenges to overcome.

From Galileo to Aldrin to Musk, greatness and achievement in space have been credited nearly exclusively to men. But there is another story: how women’s contributions have enhanced space exploration. This summer, the Ontario Science Centre is telling it.

As part of its Summer of Space lineup, the Women in Space exhibition showcases contributions like deep-sea research, deploying advanced telescopes, and the invention of the BioSuit. Featuring a special contingent of Canadian women researched and selected by the Science Centre — retired astronaut Roberta Bondar, citizen-scientist astronaut candidate Shawna Pandya and aerospace engineer Natalie Panek — this exhibition shines a light on the female game-changers who have made a significant impact on the space sector.

Changing the Face of Science Classrooms and Beyond

“When you enter a washroom in the science building on a university campus and see the outlines of the urinals that were recently removed from the wall, it reminds you that all washrooms in the science building used to be men’s washrooms,” recalls Rachel Ward-Maxwell, Researcher-Programmer of Astronomy and Space Sciences at the Ontario Science Centre.

“Women entering disciplines in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) often encounter male-dominated classrooms and work environments. This can send a message that women are unwelcome and their voices less valued,” she says.

Fighting against the stereotypes she has experienced first-hand as a female scientist, Ward-Maxwell is passionate about changing the perception of women in STEM and eager to showcase the discoveries, inventions and ideas women have pioneered.

“Today, women occupy a range of roles in the space industry — from astronauts to engineers to meteorologists. Thanks to women’s contributions to science innovation and engineering technology, capabilities in space exploration continue to expand,” Ward-Maxwell says. And once an unlikely goal, women-led space exploration is becoming a very real possibility.

Science Needs Women. Science Needs Everyone

When asked why it’s so important to get more women into the fields of science, technology, engineering and math, Ward-Maxwell is quick to answer.

“Because it’s the right thing to do. Science needs women. Science needs everyone. Diversity and inclusion in science breed diversity of ideas. And science is all about ideas and asking questions. Diverse voices and perspectives in science will lead to new questions and better, more creative solutions with broader impact on society.”

Nurturing the Future of Female Scientists

As a child, Natalie Panek dreamed of travelling to space. She avidly followed her heroes — the astronauts — as they explored and pushed boundaries. With a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering and career in the aerospace industry (including a stint with NASA), Panek credits the Ontario Science Centre for providing her with a creative outlet for science as a kid.

The Ontario Science Centre has been part of my story since I was a child. When visiting Toronto from out of town, the Science Centre was the only place I couldn't wait to visit. The Science Centre is an outlet for creativity when it comes to science and engineering, with so many opportunities to explore at your own pace.

Natalie Panek, Aerospace Engineer, Adventurer and STEM advocate

Today Panek embraces the opportunity she has to change the perception of women in STEM and encourage the next generation of women to embrace challenging and innovating careers that can shape our future. Her journey is showcased in the Women in Space exhibition, and her story of grit, perseverance and passion is an inspiration to young dreamers and aspiring scientists alike.

The Summer of Space!

Discover the captivating tale of space exploration featuring the industry’s brightest female scientists — whose work has helped NASA prepare for the future — in the Women in Space exhibition at the Ontario Science Centre throughout the summer.

Along with the Women in Space exhibition, visitors to the Ontario Science Centre can interact with the hands-on Astronaut exhibition, running until September 2nd. Discover what it feels like to blast off into space, experience what it’s like to sleep, eat and shower in space, and investigate and investigate what it feels like to be a space explorer.

RBC clients can celebrate 50 years with the Ontario Science Centre and receive 30% off general admission ticket(s) this summer when they pay using an eligible RBC card online.

Simply sign into RBC Offers and click on the Ontario Science Centre banner. (*Offer excludes IMAX® films, special exhibitions, and parking fees).

Watch out for more stories of achievement and adventure that will be published throughout the year, as we profile past, present and future leaders in science and technology — and how the Ontario Science Centre has played a role in igniting passions that change the world.

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