A World War II tribute has arrived at the ISS — and it could help Boeing take on SpaceX

Popular feminist icon Rosie the Riveter is back as Rosie the Rocketeer.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Wearing her Boeing blue spacesuit and red polka-dot head scarf, teams strapped the anthropometric test device securely into the commander seat.Boeing

Do you remember Rosie the Riveter? She was a famous World War II recruitment and feminist campaign icon.

Now she has been repurposed for spaceflight as Rosie the Rocketeer, a dummy astronaut that took flight this week on the commander's seat of Starliner, Boeing's astronaut taxi, for Orbital Flight Test-2, an uncrewed mission that launched to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.

Her purpose?

To certify Starliner for human spaceflight and possibly beat SpaceX to a crewed flight to the ISS.

This is not Rosie's first flight with Boeing. She took to the skies back in June 2021 and provided crucial data during her trip.

“She is a 180-pound test device in European tan that is meant to represent the 50th percentile of human dimensions in height and weight,” said in a statement at the time Melanie Weber, the subsystem lead for Crew and Cargo Accommodations on the Commercial Crew Program. “Rosie’s first flight provided hundreds of data points about what astronauts will experience during flight, but this time she’ll help maintain Starliner’s center of gravity during ascent, docking, undocking, and landing.”

“Even the car you drive must maintain its center of gravity, or it could roll over,” Weber added.

She also served at the time as an icon for women in space.

“Women in aerospace have made great strides, and hopefully, Rosie will inspire more to enter the industry,” Weber said. “It is absolutely important to include all people in this field to make sure our services and products accommodate all people. We only become stronger when we have diverse perspectives.”

When did Rosie first appear?

The U.S. Department of Labor highlights her story

The "Rosie" image, which was popular during the war, was created by illustrator Norman Rockwell (who had most certainly heard the "Rosie the Riveter" song) for the cover of the Saturday Evening Post on May 29, 1943 — the Memorial Day issue. The image depicts a muscular woman wearing overalls, goggles, and pins of honor on her lapel. She sports a leather wrist band and rolled-up sleeves. She sits with a riveting tool in her lap, eating a sandwich, and "Rosie" is inscribed on her lunch pail," stated the department of labor in a post about Rosie.

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Soon, the idea caught on, and newspapers everywhere started printing real-life stories of women working in male-dominated industries due to the shortages in labor caused by the war. 

"The government took advantage of the popularity of Rosie the Riveter and embarked on a recruiting campaign of the same name. The campaign brought millions of women out of the home and into the workforce. To this day, Rosie the Riveter is still considered the most successful government advertising campaign in history," added the department of labor.

It's nice to see that such a popular feminist icon is being recycled for a useful purpose. This opens many possibilities for Rosie and for women in general. Where might we see Rosie next? Only our imagination is the limit.