Astronauts: Women in Space

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Astronauts: Women in Space

Bondar, Roberta (1945—). First Canadian woman astronaut. Pronunciation: BONN-dar. Born Roberta Lynn Bondar on December 4, 1945, at Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada; daughter of Edward Bondar and Mildred Bondar; attended University of Guelph, B.S., 1968, University of Western Ontario, M.S., 1971, University of Toronto, Ph.D., 1974, McMaster University, M.D., 1977. Selected Canadian astronaut (1983); flew on one Spacelab mission before resigning from astronaut corps (1992); published with sister, Dr. Roberta Bondar, On the Shuttle: Eight Days in Space (1993).

Cobb, Jerrie (1931—). First American woman to pass NASA astronaut tests and qualify for spaceflight. Born Geraldyn Menor Cobb on March 5, 1931, at Norman, Oklahoma; daughter of William Harvey Cobb (an Air Force officer) and Helena Butler Stone Cobb (a teacher). Licensed pilot since 1947, setting world records (1956–60); first American woman to pass NASA astronaut tests (February 1960); became a NASA consultant (1960–62); published, with Jane Rieker, Woman Into Space: The Jerrie Cobb Story (1963); established airlift service to Amazonia, the Jerrie Cobb Foundation (1964—); nominated for Nobel Peace Prize (1981).

Collins, Eileen Marie (1956—). American astronaut who was the first female pilot of the space shuttle. Born Eileen Marie Collins on November 19, 1956, at Elmira, New York; daughter of James E. Collins and Rose Marie Collins; attended Corning Community College, A.S., 1976, Syracuse University, B.A., 1978, Stanford University, M.S., 1986, Webster University, M.A., 1989; married James Patrick Youngs. Joined the Air Force (1978); as second female Air Force test pilot, graduated from Air Force Institute of Technology and Air Force Test Pilot School (1985–90); selected by NASA (1990); pilot on one mission (1995); appointed space shuttle commander of the Columbia, the first woman to lead the crew of four (1998).

Jemison, Mae (1956—). American astronaut who was the first African-American woman to fly in space. Born Mae Carol Jemison on October 17, 1956, at Decatur, Alabama; daughter of Charlie Jemison (a contractor) and Dorothy Jemison (a teacher); attended Stanford University, B.S. and B.A., 1977, Cornell University, M.D., 1981; divorced. Peace Corps medical officer (1983–85); selected by NASA (1987); flew on one mission (1992), before resigning; wrote afterward in Doris L. Rich 's biography of Bessie Coleman , Queen Bess (1993).

McAuliffe, Christa (1948–1986). First private American citizen selected to fly in space and first civilian to die on the space shuttle. Born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1958, in Boston, Massachusetts; died on space shuttle, January 28, 1986; daughter of Edward C. Corrigan (an accountant) and Grace Corrigan (a teacher); attended Framingham State College, B.A., 1970, Bowie State College, M.Ed., 1978; married Steve James McAuliffe, on August 23, 1970; children: Scott (b. 1976) and Caroline (b. 1979). Taught in several Maryland and New Hampshire schools and developed a women's history course (1970–85); won NASA's Teacher-in-Space competition (1985); killed on space shuttle Challenger, January 28, 1986.

Ochoa, Ellen (1958—). American astronaut who was the first female Hispanic astronaut. Pronunciation: O-cho-AH. Born Ellen Lauri Ochoa on May 10, 1958, at Los Angeles, California; daughter of Joseph L. Ochoa and Rosanne Ochoa; attended San Diego State University, B.S., 1980, Stanford University, M.S., 1980, Ph.D., 1985; married Coe Fulmer Miles. Optical researcher (1985–90); won Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Award (1989); selected by NASA (1990); flew on one mission (1993) and awaiting future assignments.

Resnik, Judith (1949–1986). American astronaut who was the first Jewish astronaut to fly in space and first woman astronaut killed in flight. Pronunciation: REZ-nick. Born Judith Arlene Resnik on April 5, 1949, at Akron, Ohio; killed in space on January 28, 1986; daughter of Dr. Marvin Resnik (an optometrist) and Sarah Polensky Resnik (a secretary); married Michael D. Oldak, on July 14, 1970 (divorced 1976); attended Carnegie-Mellon University, B.S., 1970, University of Maryland, Ph.D., 1977. Selected for first group of women astronauts (1978) and completed one mission as second American woman in space (1984); killed on Challenger space mission (1986).

Ride, Sally (1951—). First American woman to fly in space. Born Sally Kristen Ride on May 26, 1951, at Los Angeles, California; daughter of Dr. Dale (an educator) and Joyce (Anderson) Ride (a counselor); attended Swarthmore College, 1968–1970, Stanford University, B.S. and B.A., 1973, M.S., 1975, Ph.D., 1978; married Dr. Steven Hawley, on July 26, 1982 (divorced 1987). Selected for first group of women astronauts in 1978 and first American woman in space, June 18, 1983; after second flight in 1984, served on the Rogers Commission to investigate the Challenger disaster and was a special assistant to the NASA administrator; resigned from NASA (1987); currently director of the Space Science Institute at the University of California at San Diego; inducted into Women's Hall of Fame, Seneca Falls, New York, 1988; published To Space and Back (1986), Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System (1992), and The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth From Space (1994).

Savitskaya, Svetlana (1948—). Soviet astronaut who was the second woman in space and first woman to walk in space. Pronunciation: SVET-lawn-AH Sah-VIT-sky-AH. Born Svetlana Savitskaya on August 8, 1948, in Moscow, Soviet Union; daughter of Yevgeny Yakovlevich (a pilot) and Lidiya Pavlovna Savitsky; graduated from Moscow Aviation Institute, 1972; married Viktor Stanislavovich Khatkovsky; son Konstantin (1986). World champion flyer (1970); set world flying records (1974–81); chosen as cosmonaut (1980) and flew on two missions (1982, 1984), becoming the first woman to walk in space; published Yesterday and Always (1988); elected to Congress of People's Deputies (1989); active cosmonaut awaiting assignment as spacecraft commander.

Sullivan, Kathryn (1951—). First American woman to walk in space and first female payload commander. Born Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan on October 3, 1951, at Paterson, New Jersey; daughter of Donald P. Sullivan (an aerospace design engineer) and Barbara K. Sullivan; University of California at Santa Cruz, B.S., 1973, Dalhousie University, Ph.D., 1978. Selected for first group of women astronauts (1978) and flew on three missions (1984); was the first American woman to walk in space (1990, 1992), and the first female payload commander; wrote foreword in Your Future in Space: The U.S. Space Camp Training Program (1986); chief scientist of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (1992–96); appointed to head the nonprofit Center of Science and Industry in Columbus, Ohio (1996).

Thornton, Kathryn (1952—). American astronaut who was the first woman to fly on a classified Department of Defense mission and holder of space-walking record for female astronauts. Born Kathryn Ryan Cordell on August 17, 1952, at Montgomery, Alabama; daughter of William Carten Thornton and Elsie Elizabeth Ryan Cordell (restaurant owners); attended Auburn University, B.S., 1974, University of Virginia, M.S., 1977, Ph.D., 1979; married Stephen Thomas Thornton; children, stepson Kenneth (b. 1963), stepson Michael (b. 1965), Carol Elizabeth (b. 1982), Laura Lee (b. 1985), Susan Annette (b. 1990). Selected by NASA (1984); flew on three missions (1989); became the first female astronaut to fly on a classified Department of Defense mission (1992), achieving the female spacewalking record; helped repair the Hubble telescope (1993); went on fourth mission as payload commander of the second United States Microgravity Laboratory (1995).

On July 20, 1969, the world was enthralled when two American astronauts landed on the moon, and Neil Armstrong declared: "That's one small step for a man … one giant leap for mankind." By the end of the 20th century, women had yet to set foot on the moon, and the pronoun he permeated space history. Nevertheless, pioneering female astronauts have overcome political, societal, and bureaucratic obstacles and have secured opportunities for future female space explorers. A diverse group of women not only serve admirably as space travelers but also as astronautic engineers, scientists, and administrators.

Jerrie Cobb

The inclusion of women in space exploration has been a frustrating endeavor. In the late 1950s, the Air Force first tested women at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to determine if they were physiologically suitable for space flight. Then, in 1960, Geraldyn "Jerrie" Menor Cobb became the first American woman to undergo and successfully complete NASA's grueling astronaut tests. A pilot since age 12, Cobb played semi-pro softball with the Sooner Queens for three years, accumulating enough money to buy a war-surplus airplane to patrol oil pipelines and teach flying lessons. Cobb also ferried aircraft to South America, Europe, and India.

Setting speed and altitude records, Cobb was hired as a test pilot by the Aero Design and Engineering Company in April 1959. Most test pilots were men with military training; only a few women were skilled enough to test the strength and endurance of new airplanes. After securing several world records, Cobb won the Woman of the Year in Aviation Award in 1959. Later that year, at the Miami Air Force Association conference, Cobb talked to Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace, chair of NASA's Life Sciences Committee for Project Mercury. Lovelace wanted to study the effects of spaceflight on women and asked Cobb to be his test subject.

Cobb accepted Lovelace's invitation. Though she realized that in 1958 President Dwight Eisenhower had directed that NASA consider only male military test pilots for astronauts, she hoped that her talent would outweigh such restrictions. Following her arrival at the Lovelace Foundation in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in February 1960, Cobb passed the same rigorous tests, physical and psychological, as the male Mercury astronauts, everything from swallowing lengthy hose for gastric analysis to withstanding exposure to extreme temperatures. Cobb rated higher than many male candidates, especially in adjustment tests, and revealed that in some ways women were more capable than men to meet space travel's physical demands.

As a result of Cobb's success, Lovelace predicted that women would have a major role in future spaceflight. He suggested that Cobb undergo further tests at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where her ability to react and to control a space capsule would be analyzed. Cobb successfully completed those tests; she also passed Navy pilot tests at the Pensacola Aerospace Medical Research Laboratory, and floated in a darkened underground isolation water tank in Oklahoma City for nine hours and forty minutes, three hours longer than any male astronaut. Lovelace publicized Cobb's successes and announced that she was ready to go into space. In the ensuing publicity frenzy, Cobb was labeled a "lady astronaut" and featured on television and in major magazines. One NASA official responded, "Talk of an American spacewoman makes me sick to my stomach."

Encouraged by Cobb, famed pilot Jacqueline Cochran , who had organized World War II women pilots, enlisted Cobb and Lovelace to help her select women for astronaut testing. Cochran financed the tests. The stipulations required that each applicant must have a commercial pilot's license with 1,500 hours of flying time. Thirty-one women applicants qualified. In 1961, 12 American women passed the Mercury tests and were designated as Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs). These women, who were firmly committed to the space program and often better trained than their male counterparts, pursued spaceflight training in the "Women in Space Soonest" (WISS) program.

When NASA administrator James Webb chose Cobb to be a NASA consultant and write a report on the potential of women in the space program, she was emphatic that qualified women should become astronauts. Having initially believed that no women could pass the tests, NASA delayed responding to her report, finally explaining that women might be included in future space flight but that the WISS program was canceled and women would not train for Project Mercury. Cobb and the FLATs were rejected as astronauts because they lacked sufficient experience as jet test pilots, a career limited primarily to military men.

Johnny Carson made what he considered to be a joke, that the shuttle launch was being postponed until Sally Ride could find the purse to match her shoes. There are a lot of people waiting for her to fail.

—Joyce Ride, on the eve of her daughter's historic mission as the first American woman in space

Devastated, Cobb refused to give up. Joined by the FLATS, especially Jane Hart , the wife of a Michigan senator, Cobb lobbied Congress. On July 17, 1962, she addressed the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, arguing that women had proven that they were as physically and mentally suitable to be astronauts as men. Women weighed less, needed less oxygen and food, and were less likely to suffer heart attacks than men, she noted, as she urged Congress to let America be the first country to send a woman into space. Commenting that female research animals had already been sent to space, Cobb complained, "Millions for chimps, but not one cent for women." An outspoken woman, Hart told Congress, "It is inconceivable to me that the world of outer space should be restricted to men only, like some sort of stag club." She stressed, "I am not arguing that women be admitted to space merely so that they won't feel discriminated against. I am arguing that they are admitted because they have a very real contribution to make."

Then Cobb and Hart had to sit back and listen to leader after NASA leader denounce women space explorers, recommending their exclusion. Despite her earlier support, Cochran testified that though she thought a corps of female space specialists like the World War II WASPs should be established, it might be too costly. Also, she questioned whether female astronauts would abandon the space program for marriage and pregnancy. Cochran had written Cobb that the time for female astronauts would come and warning that "pushing too hard just now could possibly retard rather than speed that date." An annoyed John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, dismissed the FLATS in his testimony, declaring that the tests were inconsequential. Despite their success in outfitting male astronauts, NASA officials explained that it would be too complicated to design spacesuits to fit female astronauts and accommodate their biological needs. Administrators also argued that hundreds of women would have to be more rigorously tested to determine if women were capable of sustaining spaceflight. In response, the press rallied in support of the FLATS, dubbing them astronauttes, astronettes, and astronautrixes.

Although the military requirement was dropped when the second group of Project Gemini astronauts were selected in 1962, Congress and President John F. Kennedy refused to train women astronauts, believing that they would impede the goal of landing a man on the moon by 1970. Other reasons for not having an official training program for women included fear of public backlash against the space program if a woman was killed in space and possible publicrelations problems with the logistics of overnight cohabitation in capsules or the assignment of allfemale crews (which some feminists labeled male NASA officials' "worst nightmare").

On June 15, 1963, cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova became the first woman in space. (She had been selected along with Zhanna Dmitriyevna Yorkina , though Yorkina never flew.) After Tereshkova's flight, American journalist Clare Boothe Luce penned an angry editorial for Life magazine, criticizing NASA's refusal to train women astronauts. In 1964, NASA invited female geologists and geophysicists to apply for scientific lunar missions; none were accepted. Then, the feminist movement of the late 1960s began to pry open the doors.

In 1972, Congress passed an amendment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, stipulating that federal agencies could not discriminate on the basis of gender, and NASA officials began to come around. Besides, some reasoned, women would have a "civilizing influence" on male astronauts and be necessary for domestic chores such as housekeeping and cooking in addition to providing a means for the men's sexual release on future space stations and lengthy missions.

Beginning the following year, Air Force nurses and civilian women participated in NASAsponsored physiological tests, simulating weightlessness to determine the role women could play in space. Volunteers, such as future astronaut Marsha Ivins , underwent tests during the mid-1970s to aid NASA in establishing criteria to select the first women astronauts. At the same time, NASA's transition to the space shuttle resulted in more frequent flights that required larger crews consisting of specialists in science and engineering. The attitudes of NASA officials changed slowly, but women interested in aerospace careers now had hope for future advancement.

After a rigorous selection process, involving interviews and physical examinations, NASA named the first female astronaut candidates in January 1978: Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, Anna Fisher, and Rhea Seddon . Of 8,079 applications, 1,142 had been submitted by women. Nineteen women were named finalists, and the chosen six, selected on the basis of their achievements and potential for the future, were designated as mission specialists. Though they relinquished their careers and original research for the chance to fly in space, all agreed that it was an opportunity that they could not refuse. Said Seddon, "I feel the burden to succeed especially because of other women who want to go into the space program. They will be looking to us to do well so that NASA will accept more women in the future." At about the same time, physicist Ann F. Whitaker was designated one of six American finalists for Spacelab I, a cooperative mission with Europe. She was the only woman chosen.

Sally Ride

Sally Kristen Ride became the first American woman in space 23 years after Cobb passed NASA's astronaut tests. Publicity about Ride's accomplishment rivaled that of the Apollo moon landing, creating renewed enthusiasm for the space program. Ride's childhood experiences bolstered her scientific interests. She had excelled scholastically, attending Beverly Hills' Westlake School for Girls. Dedicated to her studies, she credited her science teacher, Dr. Elizabeth Mommaerts , for encouraging her to explore the mysteries of the universe. A nationally ranked junior tennis player, Ride acquired character traits such as discipline, commitment, and composure that she believed prepared her to become an astronaut. Her parents were also supportive. Said Ride: "Anytime I wanted to pursue something that they weren't familiar with, that was not part of their lifestyle, they let me go ahead and do it…. Tennis was an example; so was going into science. I think they were kind of glad when I went into the astronaut program, because that was something they could understand. Astrophysics they had trouble with."

Seddon, Rhea (1947—)

American astronaut. Born Margaret Rhea Seddon in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on November 8, 1947; served a surgical internship and three years of general surgery residency in Memphis, Tennessee; did clinical research into the effects of radiation therapy on nutrition in cancer patients.

In August 1979, out of the original group of six women astronaut trainees, Rhea Seddon was the first woman to achieve the full rank of astronaut and the first to be selected for the spaceshuttle program. Before her initial space mission, she worked on orbiter and payload software, functioned as launch and landing rescue helicopter physician, and as technical assistant to the director of Flight Crew Operations. On April 12, 1985, she boarded the Discovery shuttle for a 168-hour mission, which, among other things, made an unscheduled attempt to repair a malfunctioning satellite. Her next flight, on June 5, 1991, was on the Spacelab Life Sciences (SLS-1) mission on board the Columbia; it was a nine-day mission that explored microgravitational pull on humans and animals.

In college, Ride's favorite classes were astronomy and physics. Having watched the moon landing, she dreamed of a dual career as a tennis professional and a space researcher. She did not consider becoming an astronaut because women were excluded from that role. A versatile scholar, Ride also majored in English and edited Sportswoman magazine. She focused her graduate work in astrophysics, specializing in xray astronomy at the Stanford Plasma Physics Laboratory, and applied to NASA. Believing that her research could benefit the planned space station, NASA included Ride among its six female astronaut-candidates in 1978. "I don't know why they chose me," said Ride, "but I hope it had nothing to do with the fact that I'm a woman. I hope they chose me because I am a scientist." She disliked publicity that focused on her gender, especially reporters' questions about whether she would wear a brassiere and if she feared space flight would damage her reproductive organs.

Moving to Houston, Texas, Ride mastered simulators and computer systems, preparing for every conceivable situation that might occur on a shuttle flight from launch to landing. She helped Canadian scientists develop the Remote Manipulator System (RMS), a robotic arm to move items in the shuttle's cargo bay. She rode in a T-38 chase plane for the first shuttle mission, STS-1, in April 1981, photographing the shuttle and relaying weather information to the crew. As the first female capsule communicator in Houston's Mission Control, she communicated with astronauts on the second and third shuttle flights and asked them good-naturedly, "When do I get my turn?"

In April 1982, Commander Bob Crippen announced that Ride would be the first American woman in space. "I wanted a competent engineer who was cool under stress," he explained. On June 18, 1983, half a million spectators watched Ride's launch at Cape Canaveral. As a mission specialist, she monitored experiments and demonstrated the remote arm, retrieving a satellite to return to Earth for repair. Landing on June 24 at Edwards Air Force Base, Ride became an instant national hero.

In October 1984, Ride was the initial American woman assigned to a second shuttle mission. Flight 41-G was the first launch with two female astronauts, Ride and Kathryn Sullivan. Though Ride was named to fly on STS 61-M in June 1985, she discontinued her training after the January 1986 Challenger explosion. Selected as the only active astronaut on the Rogers Commission to investigate the accident, Ride advised that some astronauts should serve in NASA management positions. She became a special assistant to the agency administrator in Washington, D.C., evaluating NASA objectives.

In 1987, Ride led a team study of NASA and wrote "Leadership and America's Future in Space: A Report to the Administrator." The Ride Report outlined four paths for future space exploration. In particular, she promoted "Mission to Planet Earth," a space-based study of Earth. She also suggested initiating exploration of the solar system without a crew, building outposts on the moon, and sending staffed missions to Mars to recapture American space leadership and increase public interest. Later that year, Ride resigned from NASA's astronaut corps and joined Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control. She then became director of the California Space Studies Institute.

Svetlana Savitskaya

The first woman to walk in space, Russia's Svetlana Savitskaya decided to become a pilot at an early age. She set world parachuting records as a teenager and won the world flying aerobatics championship in 1970. Obtaining a degree in aeronautical engineering and completing test pilot school, she achieved world records for speed and altitude in supersonic aircraft. Savitskaya qualified as a cosmonaut in 1980. On August 19, 1982, she became the second woman in space. Despite her technical accomplishments, as Savitskaya prepared to board the Soviet space station, astronaut Valentin Lebedev welcomed her with, "We have an apron all ready for you, Svetlana."

Savitskaya became the first woman to walk in space on July 25, 1983, an action that many critics demeaned by labeling it a propaganda stunt to diminish the impact of American astronaut Kathryn Sullivan's planned spacewalk. Donning a spacesuit modified for her smaller frame, Savitskaya found it difficult to maneuver on her spacewalk, during which she tested space tools and removed an experiment from the station hull to return to scientists on Earth. When asked about her historic walk, Savitskaya remarked, "A hundred years from now, no one will remember it, and if they do, it will sound strange that it was once questioned whether a woman should go into space."

Although the Soviets planned for an allwoman crew commanded by Savitskaya, the mission was canceled due to mechanical difficulties and because of her pregnancy. She was honored twice in the 1980s as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin and numerous sports medals, including the Gold Space Medal.

Kathryn D. Sullivan

Kathryn D. Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space, became intrigued by science experiments in the second grade and watched the Apollo landing, calling it an "unforgettable experience." She regretted that "'astronaut' in those days was not a career option that school guidance counselors or parents urged on young students—and certainly not one for young women." In graduate school, Sullivan focused on marine geology and participated in oceanographic expeditions to evaluate the sea floor east of Newfoundland's Grand Banks. While finishing her dissertation, she became aware of NASA's changed attitudes toward female astronauts. Recognizing parallels between marine geologists and astronauts (both explored in uncharted territory), she applied to NASA because "no self-respecting geologist could pass up the chance to see our beautiful planet from such an incredible perspective with her own eyes."

NASA recognized Sullivan's skills, including her ability to communicate and coexist with others in small spaces as evidenced on marine research ships. An expert with remote sensing equipment, she was the co-investigator for the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) experiment. This mission, which included Sally Ride, was launched on October 5, 1984, the first shuttle flight with two women aboard. On October 11, Sullivan became the first American woman to spacewalk when she tested refueling satellites in orbit and deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite. Male astronauts had completed almost 40 spacewalks before Sullivan made her pioneering stroll.

In 1985, Sullivan became an adjunct geology professor at Rice University, and President Ronald Reagan named her to the National Commission on Space, where she prepared the report "Pioneering the Space Frontier," outlining space goals into the 21st century. She helped deploy the

Hubble telescope in April 1990 and studied protein crystal growth and polymer membrane processing. Sullivan was the first female payload commander in the spring of 1992, focusing on how atmospheric composition influences the Earth's climate and environment. In 1994, she was appointed chief scientist to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and, in 1996, was appointed head of the Center of Science and Industry Museum in Columbus, Ohio.

Judith Resnik

Judith Arlene Resnik, the first Jewish astronaut, dedicated her life to scientific achievement. The granddaughter of Russian immigrants who valued hard work, Resnik excelled in high school. Taking advanced courses in mathematics and science, the ambitious Resnik graduated as class valedictorian, earning a perfect score on the SAT. In college, she enjoyed applying science to practical problems, majoring in electrical engineering. Graduating with honors, she married her college

sweetheart and moved to New Jersey where she worked in the missile and surface radar division of RCA. When her husband enrolled in Georgetown's law school, Resnik began studies at the University of Maryland and worked as a biomedical engineer at the National Institute of Health.

Shortly before finishing her doctorate, Resnik saw NASA's announcement for shuttle astronauts on a bulletin board at work, and she applied. She embarked on a fitness and dietary program, earned a pilot's license, and read astronaut Michael Collins' book, Carrying the Fire, which discussed how NASA applicants were reviewed. She then located Collins' office at the National Air and Space Museum where he was administrator and boldly introduced herself: "My name's Judy Resnik, and I want to be an astronaut."

After her selection, Resnik devoted her life to mission training. Time magazine described her as: "The most doggedly determined astronaut, male or female, ever to suit up." Resnik disliked publicity, worrying that negative press might interfere with her career. She resented personal questions. In April 1981, she was a technical commentator for NBC at the shuttle's maiden launch. When Tom Brokaw asked how she responded when men said that she was too cute to be an astronaut, Resnik sternly quipped, "I just tell them I'm an engineer."

In 1984, Resnik flew on the shuttle Discovery. The flight was delayed by computer problems, finally launching on August 30. She deployed satellites, tested the shuttle's solar sail, and monitored crystal growth experiments. Resnik also manipulated the remote arm to remove dangerous ice built up on the shuttle. The crew filmed themselves and were featured in the IMAX movie, The Dream is Alive.

Christa McAuliffe

After her return to Earth, Resnik traveled to Washington, D.C., to describe her adventures in space to NASA's Teacher-in-Space contest finalists, including Christa McAuliffe, the first private civilian selected to travel in space. McAuliffe had watched Alan Shepard's flight as a teenager, saved magazine articles about the Mercury 7 astronauts, heard Neil Armstrong's historic words while driving through a rainstorm in Pennsylvania, and longed to go into space. "I remember the excitement in my home when the first satellites were launched," she recalled. In college, she majored in history and dreamed of improving society. History professor Carolla Haglund inspired McAuliffe to study the frontier, including space.

After her marriage in 1970, McAuliffe taught junior high history, civics, and English in several schools in the Washington, D.C. area. Teaching disadvantaged children, she introduced them to significant historical sites in their community. When her husband was appointed assistant state attorney general, McAuliffe moved to New Hampshire and accepted a teaching position at Concord High School. She developed a course, "The American Woman," in which students learned how women, including Sally Ride, had influenced history.

When Reagan announced the NASA Teacher-in-Space project in 1984, primarily to counter public support for political rival Walter Mondale, McAuliffe decided to apply as an example to her students. If selected, McAuliffe planned to keep a journal, describing her selection and training, the shuttle flight, and postflight reflections. She compared her voyage into space to a pioneer woman heading west in a Conestoga wagon. "My perceptions as a non-astronaut would help complete and humanize the technology of the Space Age," she declared. "Future historians would use my eyewitness accounts to help in their studies of the impact of the Space Age on the general population."

Committed to educating future space travelers and researchers, McAuliffe noted, "I really hope the students get exited about the Space Age because they see me as an a ordinary person up there in space." She elaborated, "Not everybody has had an astronaut in his or her life, but almost everyone has had a teacher." She wanted her mission to demonstrate that "space is for everyone" and emphasized that thousands of earthbound employees worked for NASA as engineers, scientists, and administrators. Barbara Morgan , an Idaho teacher who was selected as McAuliffe's alternate, mused, "I hope that when people see Christa in space, they won't want to become astronauts; they'll want to become teachers."

Chosen from 10,463 applicants, McAuliffe was unanimously selected as the Teacher-in-Space on July 19, 1985. NASA believed that she was the most qualified person to explain her experiences and convince children and parents that space was a valuable frontier to explore. McAuliffe enthusiastically prepared for her flight, outlining two lessons, "The Ultimate Field Trip," a tour of the shuttle, and "Where We've Been, Where We're Going, Why?," a discussion about the history and future of space flight. She also planned to demonstrate the scientific and commercial benefits of space, showing how microgravity aided production of crystals and other vital substances.

Assigned to the same crew as Judy Resnik, McAuliffe cherished a friendship with her as they trained together during the fall and winter of 1985. After delays due to bad weather, pressured NASA officials ignored engineers' warnings and decided to launch the shuttle in freezing temperatures on January 28, 1986. Despite wintry winds, family and friends of McAuliffe and Resnik joined teachers waiting in the bleachers to watch the launch. Seventy-three seconds after liftoff, the Challenger exploded, and the entire crew perished in a fireball. It was the worst disaster in spaceflight history; their bodies would not be recovered from the Atlantic Ocean until April.

While the nation mourned, President Reagan paid tribute to the dead at a national service at the Johnson Space Center. Bronze replicas of the crew adorn the Challenger Monument in Arlington National Cemetery by the common grave of unidentified astronauts. Christa McAuliffe was buried in Concord's Blossom Hill Cemetery; her gravestone reads, "She tried to protect our spaceship Earth. She taught her children to do the same." Scholarships and memorials throughout the world, and two craters on the moon, bear McAuliffe's and Resnik's names.

Kathryn Thornton

The Challenger disaster did not deter women from pursuing spaceflight. Although they acknowledged the dangers involved, female astronauts concurred that the risks of space were negligible compared to everyday earthly hazards. Remarking that driving on Houston roads posed more threats than being launched in the shuttle, Kathryn Thornton, the first woman on a secret Department of Defense flight, holds the record for spacewalking by a female astronaut. Growing up in Alabama, she played "moon landing" with her siblings but admitted, "I didn't know when I was a child that I wanted to be an astronaut because there weren't any women astronauts." A physicist, Thornton has worked at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, West Germany,

and at the Army Foreign Science and Technology Center in Charlottesville, Virginia. She applied to NASA, believing that becoming an astronaut would be the best way to utilize her scientific training and technical ability. She was selected in May 1984 from almost 5,000 applicants.

Thornton's first mission in November 1989 transported a classified military payload. She deployed a spy satellite and supervised experiments for the Star Wars missile defense system. After a brief maternity leave, she entered training for her second flight. In May 1992, Thornton returned to space to repair a telecommunications satellite and to test space-station construction techniques. During her first spacewalk, she experimented with rescue procedures to capture untethered astronauts drifting in space. Her spacewalk of seven hours and forty-five minutes exceeded the combined total of the two previous woman spacewalkers, Sullivan and Savitskaya.

Returning to Earth, Thornton prepared for an even greater challenge, repair of the Hubble Space Telescope. In December 1993, Thornton was the only woman on the Hubble servicing crew. Perched in deep space on the end of the shuttle's robotic mechanical arm, she skillfully completed her tasks and established new spacewalk records. Thornton and her colleagues salvaged an expensive and crucial piece of hardware, boosting public support for NASA and continued space exploration.

During her post-flight media tour, Thornton advocated scientific education for youngsters. Concerned about her children, she admitted, "Leaving home each time is the hardest thing of all." While in space, she talked daily to her daughters by videophone. Balancing her career and family, Thornton noted, "Women can't have it all—we can have a little bit all of the time, or all of it a little bit of the time, but we never have it all, all of the time."

Roberta Bondar

Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian female astronaut, enjoyed listening to science fiction radio stories as a child with her sister Barbara. Pretending they were astronauts, the girls built a spaceship from wood, cardboard, and wire and wore space helmets ordered from a bubble gum company. Educated as a neurologist, Bondar served as director of the Multiple Sclerosis Clinic at McMaster University, researched aspects of aerospace medicine, and won an award for the best paper published in Canadian Aeronautics and Space.

Bondar was one of six Canadian astronauts selected in December 1983. The Canadian astronaut program was established to provide a payload specialist for the space station, and 4,300 applicants responded to newspaper advertisements. Bondar began training with the Canadian Space Agency in February 1984 and was named chair of Canada's life sciences subcommittee for the space station. While training for her mission, Bondar was a civil aviation medical examiner and served on the science staff at Sunnybrook Hospital, where she researched the blood flow in the brains of stroke patients; she also tested subjects in microgravity aboard a special NASA plane that simulated zero gravity.

As a payload specialist on the Internal Microgravity Laboratory (IML-1) Spacelab mission in December 1990, Bondar studied microgravity's effects on material processing and living organisms. She was the mission's principal investigator for 55 experiments, including studies of taste in space and cerebral blood flow velocity during weightlessness. Monitoring her blood pressure, she reported how her body adjusted during reentry through the atmosphere and return to Earth.

With the help of her sister, Bondar wrote a book about her experiences in space. In 1984, she resigned from the astronaut corps and returned to the University of Ottawa to teach.

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison, the first female African-American astronaut, followed her dreams despite discouragement from teachers and friends. Growing up in Chicago, she admired Lt. Uhura, a fictional black astronaut on "Star Trek," read space books, and watched the lunar landing. "I always assumed I would go into space ever since I was a little girl," she recalled. In college and medical school, she encountered subtle racism as engineering professors ignored her or treated her condescendingly. "I felt," she said, "totally invisible." Jemison coped by developing "internal motivation": "Basically, you have to understand and believe in yourself and do what it is you know you are capable of despite what anyone else may tell you."

After assisting refugees in Thailand when she was a medical student, Jemison joined the Peace Corps in 1983, serving in Sierra Leone and Liberia as the area medical officer and researching vaccines for hepatitis and rabies. Two years later, she returned to the United States as a general practitioner for CIGNA Health Plans of California. Inspired by the women and minorities in NASA's class of 1978, Jemison consulted black astronaut Ron McNair about fulfilling her desire to travel in space. She was one of 15 candidates chosen from 2,000 applicants in June 1987.

Her mission, originally scheduled for August 1988, was postponed until September 1992 because of the Challenger tragedy. Flying aboard the shuttle Endeavor on the first cooperative mission with Japan, Jemison focused on scientific experiments, observing the behavior of fish, frogs, and hornets in microgravity. She conducted tests to determine how to force body fluids that move upward into the chest when astronauts are in microgravity back into their legs for a safe return to Earth. Jemison demonstrated how the Autogenic Feedback Training Vestibular Symptomatology Suit measured vital signs and how the wearer could use biofeedback to soothe space sickness.

After Jemison's mission, Chicago hosted a six-day celebration. She talked to children, advising them to follow their hearts and avoid people with "limited imagination." She especially encouraged blacks to seek careers with the space program, saying, "This is one time when we can

get in on the ground floor." Six months after her flight, Jemison left NASA to teach a class on space-age technology and developing countries at Dartmouth College. She has since established the Jemison Group in Houston to improve health care in West Africa. Jemison fulfilled a childhood ambition in 1993 when she played Lt. Palmer on "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Ellen Ochoa

Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic female astronaut, graduated as valedictorian when she earned a degree in physics at San Diego State University. A gifted flutist, Ochoa originally had majored in music and won symphony awards. At Stanford University, she was one of the few women enrolled in electrical engineering. "Other than feeling a little self-conscious at times, I never really felt that I was treated different in any way," Ochoa recalled. Supported by fellowships from IBM, she wrote a dissertation about using photorefractive crystals in optical systems to detect defects in images.

Ochoa excelled as a researcher with the Imaging Technology Branch of Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, California; she developed optical methods to improve object recognition and designed optical filters for noise removal, receiving two patents. In 1988, she transferred to NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California, leading a research group in optical processing, especially recognition systems for space. Within six months, she was chosen as chief of the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch, directing a group of engineers and scientists to develop high performance computational systems for aerospace missions.

Ochoa penned professional papers for journals and won the Hispanic Engineering National Achievement Award as the most promising government engineer in 1989. In January 1990, NASA chose Ochoa as the first female Hispanic astronaut; she was one of 23 candidates selected from 2,000 applicants. Ochoa flew on her first mission in April 1993, retrieving a solar observation satellite and studying the Earth's atmosphere.

Eileen M. Collins

Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Eileen Collins, the first female shuttle pilot, grew up in Elmira, New York, an aviation-oriented town. Working odd jobs as a teenager to save money for flight lessons, Collins also had dreams of flying in space. After completing her academic education, including two years of Air Force ROTC at Syracuse University, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1978, and was in the first group of women that the Air Force trained to fly. When a female student failed a proficiency check ride, news of her blunders quickly spread, and Collins recalled, "All of a sudden, I realized there is a lot of pressure on me. I can't afford to fail because I will be hurting chances for young women who want to come here some day."

Collins mastered military flying and received medals for combat service in Grenada in October 1983. For two years, she honed her flying skills at Travis Air Force Base in California, then enrolled at the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1985. At the same time, Collins was an assistant professor of mathematics at the United States Air Force Academy and a T-41 instructor pilot with the 557th Flying Training Squadron. In 1989, she was accepted at the exclusive Air Force Test Pilots School at Edwards Air Force Base, graduating in 1990 as the Air Force's second female test plot (Major Jackie Parker was the first). With over 3,500 flying hours in 30 types of aircraft, Collins had the piloting skills that NASA desired. She was chosen as a future shuttle pilot in January 1990. Before her selection, women astronauts were utilized primarily for research and repair assignments.

Dedicating herself to pilot training, Collins became the first woman to pilot the space shuttle on February 3, 1995, when she was second in command of a crew of six that made an historical rendezvous with the Russian space station Mir. Collins invited the surviving FLATS to Cape Canaveral to watch her launch, carrying memorabilia for them, including Amelia Earhart 's scarf, aboard the shuttle. "The space program is critical to the future of all mankind," notes Collins, "as some of our biggest problems on Earth can be solved in space." On March 5, 1998, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced Collins' appointment as the first female space shuttle commander. She would lead a crew of four on the Columbia.

Although a small minority, NASA's growing troupe of female astronauts are thriving in a maledominated agency. Worldwide, female astronauts still continue to be designated as pioneers: Susan Jane Helms was the first woman astronaut to graduate from a military service academy, Shannon Lucid was the first woman to fly on three flights and the first to stay on Mir for over six months, Anna Fisher was the first mother in space, Jan Davis was the first female astronaut to travel in space with her spouse, Helen Patricia Sharman was the first British astronaut in space, and Chiaki Naito-Mukai was the first female Japanese astronaut. In June 1991, Tamara Jernigan , Rhea Seddon and Millie Hughes-Fulford were the first three women to fly together on a mission. Bonnie Dunbar and Ellen Baker were on the first shuttle mission to dock with the Soviet space station Mir in June 1995. Dunbar, who speaks Russian fluently and was backup to Norman Thagard, trained in Russia for one year prior to the mission. Baker is a physician who conducted medical tests on the Mir crew to understand how living in space for long periods of time affects the human body.

Since the early 1960s, women worldwide have played prominent roles in aerospace science, engineering, and administration, designing miniature electronic circuits, inventing the first satellite-tracking technology, analyzing aerodynamic performance, devising nutritious meals for astronauts, and developing adequate life support systems, clothing, and medical care for space explorers. Dr. Irmgard Flügge-Lotz was called the female Wernher von Braun for her work on satellite, rocket, and missile controls. Women also molded space policy. Dr. Carolyn L. Huntoon , a physiologist and director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, was the only female panelist on the committee that selected the first six American women astronauts.

Having won a variety of aerospace, professional, and international awards, women have secured their place in space. As their legacy, female astronauts and aerospace engineers, scientists, and administrators have invested their myriad talents and achievements to weave an intricate tapestry to nurture future space travelers and residents. As astronaut Mary Cleave reflected, "The early astronauts were the explorers. We are the homesteaders."


Bernstein, Joanne, and Rose Blue, with Alan Jay Gerber. Judith Resnik: Challenger Astronaut. NY: Lodestar Books, 1990.

Corrigan, Grace George. A Journal for Christa: Christa McAuliffe, Teacher in Space. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Hawthorne, Douglas B. Men and Women of Space. San Diego, CA: Univelt, 1992.

Hohler, Robert T. "I Touch the Future …": The Story of Christa McAuliffe. NY: Random House, 1986.

Hurwitz, Jane, and Sue Hurwitz. Sally Ride: Shooting for the Stars. NY: Fawcett Columbine, 1989.

Lasagna, Louis. "Why Not 'Astronauttes' Also?," in The New York Times Magazine. October 21, 1962, pp. 52–53.

Phelps, J. Alfred. They Had a Dream: The Story of African-American Astronauts. Novato, CA: Presidio, 1994.

suggested reading:

Briggs, Carole S. Women in Space: Reaching the Last Frontier. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications, 1993.

Flowers, Sandra H. Women in Aviation and Space. Washington, DC: Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, 1990.

Fox, Mary Virginia. Women Astronauts Aboard the Shuttle. Rev. ed. NY: Messner, 1987.

Hoyt, Mary Finch. American Women of the Space Age. NY: Atheneum, 1966.

Sharman, Helen, and Christopher Priest. Seize the Moment: The Autobiography of Helen Sharman. London: Victor Gollancz, 1993.

Vaughan, Diane. The Challenger Launch Decision. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1996.


Astronaut biographical information is available from the public relations office and history office at Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, and additional archival materials are at the NASA History Office and the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum Library, Washington, D.C.

Elizabeth D. Schafer , Ph.D., Freelance Writer in History of Technology and Science, Loachapoka, Alabama

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Astronauts: Women in Space

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Astronauts: Women in Space