In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova from the Soviet Union became the first woman to fly in space. Prior to being trained as a Cosmonaut, her prior flight experience was that of an amateur parachute jumper. Women in the United States were subject to stringent qualifications and met with adversity in the quest to become astronauts, but we’ve come a long way on the journey.
In addition to space exploration through travel, women astronomers and astrophysicists have continued throughout history to contribute to our understanding of the heavens and stars. Though we can’t name all, at the conclusion of this article, we’ll name a few notable names from the twentieth century.
Women in the space program:
The first woman in space was selected in the space program, not because she was a trained military pilot, or as a scientist or an engineer. Before entering the space program she was a textile worker. Since Valentina Tereshkova, women from various nations have participated in space flight programs, but the United States was slow in recognizing women as astronaut trainees and presented some conflicting arguments for their early stance.
In 1959, Geraldine Cobb, passed Mercury astronaut tests to be trained for the astronaut program.
The United States tested women as trainees for astronaut duty in 1960 for the Mercury project, but in 1961 cancelled the testing of qualified women stating they required jet test-pilot training at Edwards Air Force Base. Edwards AFB didn’t permit women into their test-pilot training and women were not allowed to fly aircraft in the military so the door swung shut to further training of womentemporarily.
The emphasis shifted away from test pilot capabilities shortly after Tereshkova’s flight in 1963. Already, Gemini was enlarging spacecraft to allow crews of two to navigate space. Still later spacecraft was redesigned to carry full crews of scientists, educators, and engineers with different functions and data collection priorities. Women could compete fully with men in this new environment.
Some of the women who helped pave the way for American space program were Mercury 13 candidates:
Geraldine “Jerrie” Cobb
Mary Wallace Funk
Jan and Marion Dietrich (twins)
Gerry Sloan Truhill
Women Walk in space:
Walks in space were important to astronauts and provided information as to how they might perform in walks on the moon.
In 1983, Sally ride became the first American woman to walk in space and Katherine Sullivan walked in space the following year Cosmonaut
Svetlana Savitskaya also walked in space in1984.
The 1990s bring more “firsts” for women in space:
In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first African American woman to travel in space while Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic American woman in space the following year. July 1994 saw Japanese
Chiaki Mukai become the first Japanese woman in space.
In 1996, Shannon Lucid received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.
In 1998 almost two thirds of the flight control team for
STS-95 were women.
1995 gave us the first woman pilot of a space shuttle and in 1999 Eileen Collins became commander of a space shuttle spacecraft.
Women who lost their lives in the space program are called heroes because of their steadfast dedication to the advancement of the space program.
Dr. Judith Resnick: Space shuttle Challenger
Christa McAuliffe: Space shuttle Challenge
Kapana Chawla: Space shuttle Columbia
Laurel Clark: Space shuttle Columbia
Women in space are all honored and applauded for their work in space exploration.
In addition to space exploration through travel, women astronomers contributed to our knowledge and ability to apply their knowledge to space travel from 2300 BCE through today. Space doesn’t permit us to name many, but here are a few notable names from the twentieth century.
Margaret Burbidge: Director of Royal Greenwich Observatory, made contributions to theory of Quasars, and championed opportunities for women in science.
Jocelyn Bell Burnell: Discovered neutron stars also called pulsars. Co-recipient of Nobel Prize.
Celia Payne Gaposchkin: First woman to become a full professor at Harvard. PhD dissertation was said best in twentieth century. Received Norris Russell Prize from the American Astronomical Society
Helen Sawyer Hogg: Known for her research on variable stars in globular clusters. She encouraged women to enter science.
Maria Mitchell: First woman astronomer in the United States. First woman elected to the American Philosophical Society. Helped establish the American Association for the Advancement of Women and served as president.
Women and science have a long history together and much of it is framed in struggle from ancient times and through today, but the pioneers in science have always struggled to present their work and have it validated by society. Women struggle harder but today many barriers are toppling over making it easier for women to pursue their dreams and reach for the stars.