Tuesday, June 17, 2008

25 Years of American Women in Space

On June 18, 1983 the Space Shuttle Challenger was launched carrying astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut. In honor of that anniversary, The Scotsman looks at the major milestones of women in space since Yuri Gagarin first orbited the Earth in 1961.

  • 1963: Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. She was selected for the Soviet space program based on politics, rather than having any piloting or scientific background. However, after her flight, she graduated as a cosmonaut engineer from the Zhokovsky Air Force Academy, and, in 1977 received her engineering doctorate degree.
  • 1982 (note the almost 20-year gap): Svetlana Savitskaya became the second woman in space, and the first to take a space walk. Savitskaya was a test pilot and sports pilot.
  • 1983: Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Ride earned her doctorate in physics shortly before being accepted as an astronaut candidate. In 1989 she joined the faculty of the University of California at San Diego as a Professor of Physics and Director of the California Space Institute. She now runs her own company, Sally Ride Science, that focuses on introducing girls to science. SRS runs festivals, science camps, and other programs across the US.
  • 1991: Helen Sharman became the first Brit in space, riding a Soviet Soyuz space capsule to the Mir space station. Sharman was a chemist for the Mars chocolate company who was selected after responding to an advertisement looking for astronauts "no experience required." She currently works as a broadcaster and lecturer in science education. Watch her lecture about her personal experiences in space and the science of spaceflight.
  • 1992: Mae Jemison became the first black woman in space. Jemison's background was in medical research and engineering, and conducted a bone-cell experiment during the mission. After leaving NASA, she started her own company, the Jemison Group, that "researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life" and founded the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence which runs (ran?) science camps for teenagers. Her current business is the BioSentient corporation, a medical technology company. (Jemison was also the first real astronaut to appear on Star Trek.)
  • 1995: Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle. Before joining NASA she was and Air Force aircraft commander and instructor pilot. She holds a masters degree in operations research and a masters degree in space systems management. In 2005 she commanded the Discovery shuttle mission - the first woman to hold that position. She retired from NASA in 2006.
  • 2007: Biochemist Peggy Whitson became the first woman to command the International Space Station. She returned to Earth on April 21 of this year, breaking the American record for time spent in space.
Read the article for more.

For more information about Sally Ride, you can download a pdf version of her book Blastoff! about adventures in outer space, find out her answers to girls' questions, or join the 25th Anniversary Celebration at the "Earth Then, Earth Now: Our Changing Climate" conference at the NOAA Science Center in Sliver Spring, Maryland.

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