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Women in Space and Their Firsts

By Lindsay Roseberry, Reference Department

Valentina Tereshkova

This year marks the 50th anniversary of NASA’s moon landing.  As we start looking at the last fifty years of space exploration, we also want to celebrate the history of women in space as well.  According to NASA, by 2017 a total of 59 different women, including cosmonauts, astronauts, payload specialists, and foreign nationals, have flown in space. And seeing as history has recently provided us with a new first for women in space, let’s take a look at some of the previous ones. Granted, the history of women in space only reaches 50 years if we add in the accomplishments of the Soviet Union.

The first woman is space was a Russian.  Valentina Tereshkova was the pilot of the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963 and she was 26 at the time of her flight.  She orbited the earth 48 times and manually brought the shop out of orbit.  She had been a textile worker and loved skydiving, which definitely helped her since the capsule was propelled into space by an intercontinental ballistic missile. (!)  And after returning to earth atmosphere, she ejected herself from the capsule and came down to earth using a parachute (her own parachute.)   Wow!

Sally Ride

Sally Ride became the first woman (and pilot) for the United States to fly in space. She chose space over a professional tennis career and went to space during space shuttle Challenger’s inaugural mission in 1983.  That’s a long time to wait for a woman to go to space!  Thankfully, Sally Ride was up to the challenge.

In 1984, Svetlana Savistkaya, was the first female to perform a spacewalk. She spent almost 4 hours cutting and welding metals outside the Salyut 7 space station.  She had a second record as well—this was her second mission, making her the first woman to go to space twice.

Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space.  She had completed her medical degree and applied to NASA in 1983 and was asked to join in 1987, after serving in the Peace Corps.  She flew in 1992, working on bone cell research in space. She also holds 9 honorary doctorates!

Mae Jemison

Helen Patricia Sharman was the first woman to fly in space as a result of a newspaper ad for “Astronaut wanted – no experience necessary,” as well as the first British astronaut. The advertisement was for a private space programme called Project Juno, where a consortium was formed to raise money to pat the Soviet Union for a seat on a mission.  She stayed a week at Russia’s space station Mir in 1991.  She was also the first non-American, non-Soviet astronaut.

Chiaki Mukai, a physician, became the first Japanese woman to enter space as an astronaut with the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.  She had two trips, in 1994 and 1998, which made her the first Japanese woman to travel to space twice; she also helped support the deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eileen Collins, a New York native, was a pilot at Vance Air Force Base before being assigned to the US Air Force Academy. In 1990, she was selected by NASA to become an astronaut, and became the first female Shuttle Pilot in 1995 on a mission that involved a rendezvous between Discovery and the Russian space station Mir.  She went on to become the first female commander of a US Spacecraft with Shuttle mission. She retired in 2006 after having completed four missions.

Chiaki Mukai

Anousheh Ansari is an Iranian-born American who had a background in aeronautical engineering and computer science.  She was able to train as a backup for the first spaceflight mission to the International Space Station (ISS), which was headed up by a private company.  In 2006, she was elevated to the prime crew, making her the first female space tourist.  She hopes to inspire everyone – especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men – to not give up their dreams and to pursue them.

Karen Nyberg’s second mission was on the 50th anniversary of Valentina Tereskova’s first mission (2013).  Karen is considered the first American mother in space—(perhaps that might be mother of young children?) She is also training in deep-sea training and simulation exercise at the Aquarius underwater laboratory which hopes to prepare astronauts for missions to the moon and Mars.

Anousheh Ansari

Samantha Cristoforetti went to space in 2014 and returned to earth in 2015 and so is the most recent woman to have returned from space. She has a number of firsts, which is perfect for this list.  She is she the first Italian woman to have entered space as a part of the Futura mission to ISS. She also holds the record for longest single space flight by a woman–199 days and 16 hours–and the record for the longest uninterrupted flight by a European astronaut.

And finally, for the first time in history, an all female crew will perform a spacewalk at the International Space Station.  The crew will consist of astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch who will complete the walk on March 29, lead flight controller Jackie Kagey, and lead flight director Mary Lawrence.

P.S. – This year our Summer Reading Program theme is “A Universe of Stories” and we will be having programs about space, including movies and guest speakers and so much more.  Stay Tuned!!!


Further Reading:

  • Almost heaven: the story of women in space by Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles (629.45 KEV)
  • Galaxy girls: 50 amazing stories of women in space by Libby Jackson (YA 629.450092 JAC)
  • Hidden figures: the American dream and the untold story of the Black women mathematicians who helped win the space race by Margot Lee Shetterly (510.9252 SHE)
  • Rise of the rocket girls: the women who propelled us, from missiles to the moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt (269.4072 HOL)
  • Rocket girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s first female rocket scientist by George D. Morgan (B MORGAN)
  • The glass universe: how the ladies of the Harvard Observatory took the measure of the stars by Dava Sobel (522.1974 SOB)
  • When we left Earth: the NASA missions (DVD 629.45 WHE)
  • The Mercury 13: the untold story of thirteen American women and the dream of space flight by  Martha Ackmann (629.45 ACK)

Sources:

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