Sally Ride America’s first woman astronaut communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six day mission of the Challenger (Image via NASA/Public Domain)
Astronauts are pretty awesome. Here are 20 women who braved death, danger, and sexism to make their way into the astronaut corps and outer space.
At this point, it should come as no surprise that spaceflight, like many other fields, has been traditionally closed to women. For various reasons, administrators and scientists throughout the world thought that women would not be able to endure the rigors of training and launch.
Of course, it is likely that many simply did not think of female astronauts in the first place. At the very least, the notion of such a thing was to be met with either laughter or a quick dismissal. But why couldn’t women participate? Weren’t they just as capable of men? Linda Halpern, a young student in 1962, even decided to ask such a series of questions of President John F. Kennedy.
Kennedy’s reply, however, was not especially encouraging. “We have no present plans to include women on space flights,” he wrote, “because of the degree of scientific and flight training, and the physical characteristics which are required”.
However, we now know that this is not the case. Since Valentina Tereshkova’s historic flight in 1963, it has been made abundantly clear that women are more than capable of handling life in space. Increasing support for women who want to enter the sciences, as well as increased visibility of female achievers in space-related fields, has helped to bridge the gap.
In fact, women had already been considered for some of the earliest spaceflight programs in America. Randy Lovelace, a NASA researcher and medical doctor, had even managed a privately funded program that ran women through the same tests as NASA astronauts. Thirteen of them passed, but were unable to advance their case when Lovelace canceled his project in 1961,
By the way, a copy of Kennedy’s letter was filed away in the papers of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (and the third woman in space overall). Ride clearly knew that women could thrive in science, NASA, and beyond. Here are 20 women, including Ride herself, who made such a notion very, very clear.