<img height="1" width="1" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=205228923362421&amp;ev=PageView &amp;noscript=1">

Former NASA Astronaut Jan Davis on her new book and encouraging women in STEM.

Two aviators making history. Two Americans serving their country. One incredible story shared by former NASA Astronaut Jan Davis.





Former NASA Astronaut Jan Davis has released a book in which she draws connections between her father's military service and his combat missions and her own spaceflights. Air Born: Two Generations in Flight is available now in all good bookstores.

You can connect with Jan on LinkedIn and learn more about her book here.

Remember to leave us a 5-star rating and review in your favorite podcast app. 

Miss an episode? Sign up for our weekly intelligence briefing, Signals and Space, and you’ll never miss a beat.

Audience Survey

We want to hear from you! Please complete our 4 question survey. It’ll help us get better and deliver you the most mission-critical space intel every day.

Want to hear your company in the show?

You too can reach the most influential leaders and operators in the industry. Here’s our media kit. Contact us at space@n2k.com to request more info.

Want to join us for an interview?

Please send your pitch to space-editor@n2k.com and include your name, affiliation, and topic proposal.

T-Minus is a production of N2K Networks, your source for strategic workforce intelligence. © 2023 N2K Networks, Inc.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: Welcome to T-Minus Deep Space, from N2K Networks. I'm Maria Varmazis, host of the T-Minus Space Daily Podcast. Deep Space includes extended interviews and bonus content for a deeper look into some of the topics that we cover on our daily program.

[ Music ]

And our guest this week is former NASA Astronaut, Jan Davis, who flew on three spaceflights during the Space Shuttle Program. She came on the show to speak with me, not just about her past achievements and her STEM outreach program, but also about her latest project, which is a real labor of love. Jan has released a new memoir in which she draws connections between her father's combat missions during World War II and her own spaceflights. And that book is called, "Air Born: Two Generations in Flight," and it's available now in all good bookstores.

>> Jan Davis: I'm Jan Davis, a former astronaut. I flew on three Space Shuttle missions, and I'm here to talk about a book that I wrote about my Space Shuttle missions and also my father's aviation career as a World War II B-17 pilot, and a POW for 22 months.

>> Maria Varmazis: It is an honor to speak with you. Thank you so much for joining me today. And I'm thrilled to talk to you about your book. Could you tell me about your dad?

>> Jan Davis: Well, my father was a young boy in Fort Worth, Texas. He always dreamed of flying back then in the '20s. You know, that was a -- kind of unheard of, but that's what he wanted to do, so he knew he had to go into the military because in those days, and because he was from a poor family, that's how you became a pilot. So, he joined ROTC in high school. Worked hard for a couple years after high school to save up money to take flying lessons, and he started flying in Piper Cubs and Stearmans and that kind of thing. And then he went into university and received a two-year degree, continuing to take flying lessons. So, that was in 1941.

He and my mother married the day before Pearl Harbor. And so, after Pearl Harbor, of course we were at war. And he enlisted in January and started his flight training with the army air forces. Went through that flight training which takes about nine months, and then was assigned to fly B-17, and so continued his training with that. And then flew overseas by way of up the east coast and then New Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Scotland, and then England where he was based, which is a pretty treacherous route. A lot of people didn't make it because of the weather and the harsh conditions.

And he flew seven combat missions. Was shot down, and -- over Holland as he was coming back from a bombing run in Germany. So, he was a POW for 22 months after that. After the war, he stayed in the Air Force and became, you know, an Air Force career pilot, and engineer and retired as a Colonel. So, that's in a nutshell, his career.

Of course, he and my mom married, had me. He was stationed at Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, Florida. And then he was deployed to Germany and while he was in Germany, they separated and then later divorced when I was about four years old. So, he remarried. Had more children from his second marriage, and my mother remarried and had another child. So, that's kind of where our lives diverged, but there are a lot of parallels between his career and mine.

>> Maria Varmazis: And that's such a fascinating structure for your book. I was reading the brief for it, and having a legacy like that in your family could be intimidating or motivational, depending. And I was just really curious what your thoughts were on like having a dad with that incredible story. I mean your career is absolutely incredible. So, I would just love to know, what it was like growing up with that and then maybe how did -- did that propel you forward in any way or--?

>> Jan Davis: Well, you know, he didn't talk about the war very much. I knew he flew in the war. I knew he was a POW. But I didn't know much about his, you know, wartime experience other than that. However, I knew he was a pilot and when I was a little girl, every time I would see a plane flying overhead, I'd say, "That's my daddy," you know, because I thought he flew every plane that flew. So, I think he was an inspiration to me for wanting to become a pilot. And he was an engineer, also. And I became an engineer. And you know, we corresponded back and forth about that, and he talked a lot about his flying. He didn't talk about the war, but when I started taking flying lessons, you know, he -- we shared a lot of things about flying, which was pretty neat. So, it was an inspiration, even though I wasn't around him much while he was in the Air Force. I learned a lot by doing the research for this book. So, it was just fascinating to learn what he went through as training to be a B-17 pilot and flying in the war and what that was like. Went over to England where he was based, and tried to realize what, you know, he was going through over there. And I flew in a B-17. And so, that was -- that was a very emotional and exciting at the same time, experience. So, there are a lot of parallels with what we went through, but he definitely was an inspiration for me.

>> Maria Varmazis: I can imagine -- I can imagine, that must have been very emotional. Your path through school, all the engineering work you did, all the way up through your PhD, can you talk to me a little bit about what that was like? I didn't graduate with a STEM degree. I wish -- I tried. I didn't make it. So, it's something I'm very personally interested for women who do and go on to have fantastic careers like yourself. Can you talk to me a bit about that?

>> Jan Davis: Sure. Grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. So, the space program was all around me, and I actually knew what engineers did for a living, which I think a lot of you know, junior high, high school students may not even know what engineering is. So, I decided to become and engineer, but it was not common at all for women at the time. And I was almost always the only girl in my class. The professors were supportive. My students, colleagues were supportive and -- but I didn't have any issues. It was just, you know, a little bit of pressure to do well and know everybody's watching you to make sure you can do it. And same thing when I started working as an engineer.

But to answer your question, you know, from an education standpoint, I think it's because I'm just stubborn and because my parents told me I could do anything. And so, when people said, "Well, that's a man's field," I'm like, "Well, I'm going to be an engineer." You know, because there are people who try to tell you that you shouldn't do that. And it actually has become a passion of mine to encourage young girls to be whatever they want to be, but especially in the STEM fields, because we -- we're lacking women in those fields. It's still about 20% women. So, you know, I started a nonprofit to provide role models and speaking to young girls about STEM careers.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: We'll be right back.

[ Music ]

I think that's -- it's an incredible organization and motivating the next generation, especially girls to be -- see what they can be, is so important. So, yes, can you tell me a little bit about your organization and what you do?

>> Jan Davis: Yes. So, myself and two other women astronauts were sitting having dinner one night here in Huntsville, actually. And we were talking about how we wished there was an outlet for us to do outreach for girls. And we decided we would just start one. And so, it just evolved from there. We started with other women astronauts, about 20 of them. That was probably 2018 or so. And then we wanted to expand beyond aerospace and beyond astronauts and have other women in STEM join us. So, we have doctors and generals, and you know, engineers, scientists. Some very cool scientists are with us. And so, we have close to 100 members now. And what we do is we partner with organizations that have STEM outreach and STEM programming for girls, just for girls. And so, we partner with those organizations, and we provide speakers for them. So, it could be a virtual, you know, after school program. It could be -- we travel to a big Girl Scout event, for example. And you know, we usually provide a talk or help them with workshops or whatever they want us to do. And we reached, I think close to 30,000 girls, now. It's between 20 and 30,000 girls, because we're reached so many, we can reach a lot virtually but also in person. And we've gone all over the country. We pay travel expenses to wherever the event is, and we've gone to Hawaii and Puerto Rico and just had some amazing feedback from girls talking about, "Wow, I didn't know I could do that," or "I didn't even think about maybe doing this," and "So and so told me about it, and it sounds like it's something I would really like to do."

So, I think some girls out there, resist going into STEM because they don't have a role model, or they don't understand it, or they don't think they can do it or they [inaudible] from a little town. Maybe, you know, "I can't do that." And so, we're there to encourage them and hopefully get some more women in STEM.

>> Maria Varmazis: It's so important. Oh, my goodness, it is so important. And the organization's name is AstraFemina?

>> Jan Davis: AstraFemina, yes, and the website is astrafemina.org.

>> Maria Varmazis: Excellent, thank you. I'm going to backtrack a little bit because I'm sure that the question a lot of the little girls have for you, and bigger girls like myself, many people, many children dream of becoming an astronaut from a young age. Was that a dream of yours? Did it evolve during your career? I'm very curious about your path to becoming an astronaut.

>> Jan Davis: Yes, when I was growing up, I was very interested in the space program and around it in one way or another. But there were no women astronauts. All the astronauts were military test pilots. So, it wasn't even anything I thought I could do, when I was even going to college. I became an engineer in college because of again, the influence from being in Huntsville and being around the engineers there in the space program. And it wasn't until I was out working until they first selected the Space Shuttle astronauts, which included women, because the Space Shuttle astronauts had two types of astronauts. They had the pilots. The pilot astronauts who were still military test pilots, and the mission specialists who were engineers or doctors or scientists, and they could be civilians or military. And so, it really opened up the world to people like me, and -- but that group of six women were first selected in 1978. That really inspired me to think, "Wow, maybe -- maybe that is a possibility?"

And so, the next class was in 1980, with two women, and by that time, I had started working. And so, I set that as a goal. Since we now had eight women, and by that time, you know, we have Sally Ride had had her first flight. And so, that was a goal of mine, and that's how I thought about becoming an astronaut and worked hard to do the things I thought might help me. But it wasn't something I thought about as a young girl, because it just wasn't possible. And that's how I know that having a role model is very inspirational. Having a role model for young girls is very important because they don't see other women doing it, then they're not going to think they can do it, because that's the way I was. I didn't think I could be an astronaut, because there weren't any women astronauts. But now there are, and so I hope we can provide inspiration for future women astronauts.

>> Maria Varmazis: Absolutely. I know -- it is happening and it's wonderful to see. Your book sounds like, and your life story truly sounds like a lot of perseverance and hard work, service to your nation. I just wanted to give you the floor, so to speak, about anything you wanted to mention about your book as we close, because I know we're coming up on time. Just, I wanted to make sure that I give you the opportunity to talk about it if there's anything I forgot to ask or that you wanted to mention.

>> Jan Davis: Well, thank you for that. I wrote the book because my sister from my father's second marriage has sent a copy of his POW wartime log, which is like a journal, to me in April of 2020, during COVID. And I saw it was full of beautiful watercolors and drawings and stories about his life as a POW. And I really felt like that story needed to be told and those -- some of those drawings needed to be published. And I'll publish all of them in a later volume. But doing the research for that book was a phenomenal experience for me, since I didn't know him very well, and he didn't talk about it. And so, I really enjoyed the process of learning about his flying career, his POW career, what all -- not career, but POW time, and the hardships he had. And in fact, you know, flying for the Air Force has a lot of similarities to my flying with NASA and the risks we took, but he in combat and me on the Space Shuttle. And so, I tried in a book to sort of compare what each of us went through, and how he was an inspiration and how you know, some of his training was similar to my training. And tell both our stories. It was really his story kind of interweaved with my story, so it became our story. It really reflected both of our flying careers. And so, it was exciting for me to put it together. I learned a lot. I enjoyed it. I learned a lot about him. I learned a lot about me. But I think it's a story that's important for people to understand, you know, what the war was like and what aviation was like back in that war. So, it was really, really interesting and fun, really, for me to put it together, and tell his story.

[ Music ]

>> Maria Varmazis: That's it for T-Minus Deep Space for September 30th, 2023. We'd love to know what you think of this podcast. You can email us at Space@n2k.com, or submit the survey in the Show Notes. Your feedback ensures that we deliver the information that keeps you a step ahead in the rapidly changing space industry. This episode was produced by Alice Caruth. Mixing by Elliott Peltzman, and Trey Hester, with original music and sound design by Elliott Peltzman. Our executive producer us Brandon Karpf. Our Chief Intelligence Officer is Eric Tillman. And I'm Maria Varmazis. Thank you for listening.

[ Music ]

Similar posts

Stay in the loop on new releases. 

Subscribe below to receive information about new blog posts, podcasts, newsletters, and product information.