When you think of astronauts, the first association you get usually starts with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins. And rightfully so. Those three were the first men to walk on the Moon. But little do people know that while NASA was working on putting the first men in space, there was an option of sending the first women in space.
More than 50 years ago, US and NASA worked on a project to send women in Space. The project, which included medical test same as the Mercury astronauts, occurred in 1960-61. Small group of female pilots were tested, and they had the same if not the better score than male astronauts. Jerrie Cobb was one of the first women to volunteer for the astronaut testing program.
The reason why NASA couldn’t send women in space was because of the recruitment process. At the time, NASA selected astronauts only from the military pilots pile. And there were no female military test pilots. But things changed over the years. As of 2016, 60 woman have flown in space, and 537 have traveled in space. Most of them are from the United States. However, a Russian woman was the first to travel to space. Here are five female astronauts that paved the way, or the space for women.
Valentina Tereshkova is the first woman to fly into space. She was selected from 400 applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6. Her mission in space occurred on June 16, 1963. She was in space for three days, and during that time, she completed 48 orbits of the Earth.
At the moment, she serves as a politician, having retired as a cosmonaut. She was actually honorary inducted into the Soviet Air Force just so she can join the Cosmonaut Corps. Before she started her career as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova worked as a textile-factory assembly worker. She was also an amateur skydiver. In 2013, she offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars, if the opportunity ever comes by. For her services to the Soviet Union, she has received Hero of the Soviet Union (1963), Order of Lenin for making progress on the development and strengthening of ties with the progressive community (1963), and Order of October Revolution (1971).
The next woman on the list is also a Russian. She was the second woman to fly in space, but first woman to perform a spacewalk (1984), and first woman to fly on a space station (1982), as well as the first woman to perform two spaceflights.
Unlike Valentina, Svetlana actually had a military background. She was daughter of a military commander in the Soviet military, and started her aerospace career as a test and sports pilot. And she was great at it. She set 18 international world records on MiG aircraft. In 1980, she started her aerospace training. Her first mission was in 1982, and the second one followed two years later.
She openly spoke about the sexism during her first mission. When she entered Salyut 7 her male crewmates had some harsh words for her. But she quickly established professional relationship. And in 1984, she performed a spacewalk outside Salyut 7 which lasted for 3 hours and 35 minutes.
Svetlana retired in 1993, and for her contributions, she has been awarded Hero of the Soviet Union (1982, 1984), and Orders of Lenin (1982, 1984).
Sally can claim two things. First, she was the first American woman in space. But second, and just as important, she was the first LGBT person in space. Her first mission came in 1983, while her second was in 1984.
She can also claim being the youngest American astronaut in space. She traveled for the first time when she was just 32 years old. After retiring from her astronaut career, she became a professor of physics in 1989. Sally was the only public figure that supported Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who warned of the technical problems that led to the Challenger disaster. She also wrote seven books on space, aimed at children with the sole purpose of encouraging young people to study science.
She has received a number of awards, including National Space Society von Braun award, NCAA Theodore Roosevelt Award, NASA Space Flight Medal and much more. There are two elementary schools in the US named after Sally.
Anna was not only a woman in space, she was also a mother in space. Back in the days, when women had troubles getting parental absence, Anna Lee Fisher showed the world that mothers should not be stigmatized. She was the first mother in space.
During her time in NASA, Fisher was actively involved in three major programs, including the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station, and the Orion project.
Currently, she serves as the oldest employee at NASA. And part of her assignment include making a public appearances, speaking to visitors at the NASA center.
Mae is unique in amazing way. She has been an astronaut in real life and on television as well. But more importantly, she is the first African-American woman in space. Her mission was in September 1992.
What is interesting is that she started her career as a doctor. She finished medical school, and worked in general practice for a brief period. But then she joined the Peace Corps in 1985, and served for 2 years. She was then selected by NASA, and was part of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. She retired from NASA in 1993, and started a company that researches the application of technology to daily life.
And as for her television career, she appeared in one episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.