Women in Space
Women in Space
One cannot discuss women in the space program without mentioning the women in research and aviation who paved the way for the eventual inclusion of female astronauts. Two of the most significant people in this regard are Harriet Quimby and Pearl Young. In 1911 Quimby became the first American woman to earn a pilot's license. Just a year later, she became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. She served as a forerunner to more prominent female pilots such as Amelia Earhart. Young was the first female professional to work at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (a precursor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration [NASA]), paving the way for women to work directly within the U.S. space program.
First Women Astronaut Candidates
It was not until 1978, thirteen years after the official start of NASA, that the first women were selected for astronaut training. Within those thirteen years, only one astronaut screening took place that included women. Earlier, in 1961, the Mercury 13, a group consisting of female top-flight pilots, was secretly tested by an independent medical organization. This thorough testing increased the standards for women astronauts when NASA finally conducted its first tests in 1961. Whereas the men's sensory isolation tests lasted roughly three hours in a silent room, Jerrie Cobb, the first woman to undergo testing, had to endure nearly ten hours submerged in a sensory isolation tank filled with warm water. Other tests Cobb endured required the consumption of radioactive water and liquid barium, the swallowing of nearly a meter of rubber tubing, the injection of ice-cold water into her ears to check for vertigo, and the insertion of eighteen needles in her head for brain-wave recording. Jane Hart, another test subject, recalled, "it seemed we went for days and days without anything to eat."
While all the women did well in the testing (and in most cases, better than the men according to one of the doctors in a public statement), NASA dismissed the women before final selections were made. Subsequent hearings in the U.S. Congress on the matter ended in the cancellation of further discussions. Following the canceled congressional hearings, astronaut John Glenn stated, "If we could find any women that demonstrated they
|Anna L. Fisher||Doctorate (Medicine); Masters (Chemistry)||1/78||28||Mission Specialist|
|Shannon W. Lucid||Doctorate/Masters (Biochemistry)||1/78||35||Mission Specialist/Board Engineer|
|Judith A. Resnik*||Doctorate (Electrical Engineering)||1/78||28||Mission Specialist|
|Sally K. Ride||Doctorate/Masters (Physics)||1/78||26||Mission Specialist|
|Margaret Rhea Seddon||Doctorate (Medicine)||1/78||30||Mission Specialist/Payload Commander|
|Kathryn D. Sullivan||Doctorate (Geology)||1/78||26||Mission Specialist/Payload Commander|
|Mary L. Cleave||Doctorate (Civil and Environmental Engineering); Masters (Microbial Ecology)||5/80||33||Mission Specialist|
|Bonnie J. Dunbar||Doctorate (Mechanical/Biomedical Engineering); Masters (Ceramic Engineering)||5/80||30||Payload Commander/Mission Specialist|
|Millie Hughes-Fulford||Doctorate||1/83||51||Payload Specialist|
|Roberta Lynn Bondar||Doctorate (Medicine and Neurobiology); Masters (Experimental Pathology)||12/83||38||Payload Specialist|
|Ellen S. Baker||Doctorate (Medicine); Masters (Public Health)||5/84||31||Mission Specialist|
|Marsha S. Ivins||Bachelors (Aerospace Engineering)||5/84||33||Mission Specialist|
|Kathryn C. Thornton||Doctorate/Masters (Physics)||5/84||31||Mission Specialist|
|Linda M. Godwin||Doctorate/Masters (Physics)||6/85||32||Payload Commander/Mission Specialist|
|Tamara E. Jernigan||Doctorate (Space Physics and Astronomy); Masters (Astronomy)||6/85||26||Payload Commander/Mission Specialist|
|S. Christa Corrigan McAuliffe*||Masters (Education)||7/85||36||Payload Specialist|
|N. Jan Davis||Doctorate/Masters (Mechanical Engineering)||6/87||33||Payload Commander/Mission Specialist|
|Mae C. Jemison||Doctorate (Medicine)||6/87||30||Mission Specialist|
|Eileen M. Collins||Masters (Operations Research and Space Systems Management)||1/90||33||Pilot/Commander|
|Nancy Jane Currie||Doctorate (Industrial Engineering); Masters (Safety)||1/90||31||Flight Engineer|
|Susan J. Helms||Masters (Aeronautics/Astronautics||1/90||31||Payload Commander/Mission Specialist/Flight Engineer|
|Ellen Ochoa||Doctorate/Masters (Electrical Engineering)||1/90||31||Mission Specialist/Payload Commander/Flight Engineer|
|Janice Voss||Doctorate (Aeronautics/Astronautics); Masters (Electrical Engineering)||1/90||33||Mission Specialist|
|Catherine G. Coleman||Doctorate (Polymer Science and Engineering)||3/92||31||Mission Specialist|
|Wendy B. Lawrence||Masters (Ocean Engineering)||3/92||32||Mission Specialist|
|Mary Ellen Weber||Doctorate (Physical Chemistry)||3/92||29||Mission Specialist|
|Kathryn P. Hire||Masters (Space Technology)||12/94||35||Mission Specialist|
|Janet Lynn Kavandi||Doctorate (Analytical Chemistry); Masters (Chemistry)||12/94||35||Mission Specialist|
|Susan Still-Kilrain||Masters (Aerospace Engineering)||12/94||33||Pilot|
|Pamela A. Melroy||Masters (Earth and Planetary Sciences)||12/94||33||Pilot|
|Joan E. Higginbotham||Masters (Management and Space Systems)||4/96||31||Mission Specialist|
|Sandra H. Magnus||Doctorate (Material Science and Engineering); Masters (Electrical Engineering)||4/96||31||Mission Specialist|
|Lisa M. Nowak||Masters (Aeronautical Engineering)||4/96||32||Mission Specialist|
|Julie Payette||Masters (Computer Engineering)||4/96||32||Mission Specialist|
|Heidemarie M. Stefanyshyn-Piper||Masters (Mechanical Engineering)||4/96||33||Mission Specialist|
|Peggy A. Whitson||Doctorate (Biochemistry)||4/96||36||Mission Specialist|
|Stephanie D. Wilson||Masters (Aerospace Engineering)||4/96||29||Mission Specialist|
|Tracy E. Caldwell||Doctorate (Physical Chemistry)||6/98||28||Mission Specialist|
|Barbara R. Morgan||Bachelors (Human Biology); Teaching Credential||6/98||46||Mission Specialist|
|Patricia C. Hilliard Robertson*||Doctorate (Medicine)||6/98||35||Mission Specialist|
|Sunita L. Williams||Masters (Engineering Management)||6/98||32||Mission Specialist|
|K. Megan McArthur||Doctorate (Oceanography)||7/00||28||Mission Specialist|
|Karen L. Nyberg||Doctorate/Masters (Mechanical Engineering)||7/00||30||Mission Specialist|
|Nicole Passonno Stott||Masters (Engineering Management)||7/00||37||Mission Specialist|
|Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya||Moscow Aviation Institute||1980||32||Cosmonaut|
|Elena V. Kondakova||Moscow Bauman High Technical College||1989||32||Flight Engineer|
have better qualifications [than men], we would welcome them with open arms." Congress even went so far as to support NASA's decision to have all future astronauts be drawn from military-jet test pilots, an exclusively male group until 1972.
Russian Space Program
Valentina Tereshkova, a Russian, was the first woman in space. On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova began a three-day voyage on Vostok 6 orbiting Earth. While this event was a milestone in proving that women were fully capable of participating in spaceflights, it accomplished little else. Tereshkova, a mere mill worker, received little preparation for the mission beyond some parachute jumping and became very ill while in flight. She served as a last-minute replacement for the woman originally selected.
The next female cosmonaut to travel in space, Svetlana Savitskaya, accomplished much more in her spaceflight. In 1982 she became the first woman to walk in space and later became the first woman to be sent into space twice. She was part of a group of three people who successfully connected with the Salyut space station, spending a week on the station. Despite this, she still had to endure chauvinistic male humor from one of her colleagues, Valentin Levedev. Upon boarding the station, he warmly suggested that she do the cleaning and cooking, saying, "We've got an apron ready for you, Sveta."
Women at NASA
Between the Mercury 13 tests in 1961 and the inclusion of the first female astronauts in 1978, advances were made for female roles at NASA, primarily in research. Noted accomplishments include the work of Nancy Roman (Ph.D., astronomy) and Emily Holton (Ph.D., medical science). Roman became the first chief astronomer and the first female senior executive at NASA in 1960, while Holton was the only biologist at NASA Wallops (one of the oldest launch sites in the world) in 1973.
The most significant achievement for women in the history of the U.S. space program took place in January 1978 when the first female astronaut candidates were selected. Six out of the eight candidates selected were women. From this class arguably came the most well-known female astronauts, including Sally Ride (Ph.D., physics), the first American woman in space. The launch of the space shuttle Challenger in June 1983 (STS-7) piqued the interest of the nation, as 1,600 people packed the press grandstand, forcing the posting of a "No Vacancy" sign. Not only did this serve as a media booster for NASA, Ride's performance spoke wonders for the inclusion of women astronauts. Ninety-six percent of all objectives were fulfilled, there were fewer anomalies than on any previous mission, and evidence suggests that the inclusion of a woman relaxed the crew and softened the curtness in conversation. Ride's fellow 1978 class member, Kathryn Sullivan (Ph.D., geology), became the first American woman to walk in space in October 1984. Judith A. Resnik (Ph.D., electrical engineering) was one of the seven astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986, and Shannon Lucid (Ph.D., biochemistry) was the first woman to live on the Russian space station Mir, setting the U.S. single-mission spaceflight endurance record at 188 days.
The next major hurdle was overcome in 1995, when Eileen Collins (a colonel in the U.S. Air Force) became the first American woman to pilot a spaceship. Collins has frankly stated, "I'm sorry, but maybe you do have to work harder than men when you're one of the first women, one of the few women." She would later go on to be the first female to ever command a space mission in 1999.
The Future of Women in Space
While nothing can be taken away from the collective accomplishments of all of the women who have participated in the space program over the years, the significance of these accomplishments can possibly be trivialized in the future. In 1999 an all-female shuttle flight crew was proposed. Several women in the program believed this was a publicity stunt by NASA to garner attention and funding. According to an unpublished report by NASA in 2000, these fears were justified. The results of the report concluded that no significant scientific advancements could be accomplished from sending an all-female crew, and the proposed project was dropped.
In this new century, women will play a major role in advancing the space program. As stressed by Mae C. Jemison, the first African-American woman astronaut, the space program is not just "some silly male stuff going on." Women studying all facets of science and engineering and other relevant fields will be needed to continue the work started a mere half century ago.
see also Challenger (volume 3); Challenger 7 (volume 3); Collins, Eileen (volume 3); Cosmonauts (volume 3); History of Humans in Space (volume 3); Nasa (volume 3); Ride, Sally (volume 3); Space Walks (volume 3); Sullivan, Kathryn (volume 3); Teacher in Space Program (volume 3); Tereshkova, Valentina (volume 3); Vostok (volume 3).
Cynthia Y. Young and Fredrick E. Thomas
Ackmann, Martha. "Right Stuff, Wrong Time: Mercury 13 Women Wait." Christian Science Monitor 90, no. 214 (1998):15.
Associated Press-NASA. "The Right Sex or the Right Stuff?" Newsweek 133, no. 14(1999):4.
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——"Mission Accomplished: Sally Ride and Friends. . ." Time 122, no. 1(1983):24-27.
Sheridan, David. "An American First: Eileen Collins." NEA Today 14, no. 2 (1995):7.
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Walley, Ellen C., and Terri Hudkins. "Women's Contributions to Aeronautics and Space (Historical Milestones)." 2000. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. <http://www.nasa.gov/women/milestones.html>.