Small steps, giant leaps for women in STEMM

August 10-18 marks National Science Week, and this year the world is reminiscing about the giant leap made 50 years ago by the Apollo space mission.

The moon landing was a triumph of STEMM - science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine - as it required all these fields to work towards a shared goal.

Thousands of people contributed to one of humanity's greatest achievements. Many of them were women.

Women in STEMM were instrumental in developing the technologies necessary for the Apollo missions to succeed.

As early as 1946, computer scientist Grace Hopper co-created UNIVAC, the first all-electronic digital computer, used by NASA's tracking stations for the Apollo missions.

Mathematician Kathryn Johnson, and engineers Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson's orbital calculations helped send astronaut John Glenn into space. Margaret Hamilton led the programming team whose software was vital for the moon landings.

Dolores O'Hara was the first aerospace nurse to NASA's first astronauts, establishing the Flight Medicine Clinic in 1964. She participated in every launch in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.

Electrical engineer Judith Love Cohen helped design the abort guidance system on Apollo 11's lunar module, which ensured Apollo 13's astronauts returned home.

Finally, JoAnn Morgan was the first female engineer to work at NASA and the only woman in the Launch Control Centre during the launch of Apollo 11.

These women, and many others, overcame barriers to become trailblazers and shape history.

They showed us what can be achieved if people work together, across disciplines, genders and cultural backgrounds.

Fifty years on, there have been small steps and giant leaps for women in STEMM.

There are significantly more women working in STEMM today, but we are not yet at parity.

To solve our greatest global challenges, from sustainable environments to curing diseases, the talent pool of the entire population needs to be tapped.

Different perspectives and approaches drive innovation.

Coinciding with the moon landing anniversary, last month the University of Newcastle launched its ambitious plan to grow STEMM.

Significant investment is being made into Women in STEMM initiatives, a STEMM precinct and STEMM-focused education and research.

In 1969, Apollo 11 showed us what women and men in STEMM can achieve when they put their minds to it. It is exciting to imagine what the next 50 years will bring.

Professor Billie Bonevski is University of Newcastle's Women in Science chair