572 different people have been to space since humanity began its extraterrestrial exploration. Of those 572 people, only 59 of them have been women. Just over ten percent of all people in space have been women. These women have gone to space in a variety of roles.
Who Was the First Woman in Space?
The first woman in space was a Russian cosmonaut named Valentina Tereshkova. She was the first and youngest woman to go to space. Tereshkova was only 26 when her solo mission occurred in 1963! There would not be another woman in space until 1982, when Svetlana Savitskaya (also a Russian) was a part of the Souyz T-7 mission. Although Russia was the first to send women to space, they have not continued the integration. Only three of the 19 female Russians trained have actually launched into space. In 2013 they adapted their recruitment requirements and removed any gender-specific criteria.
In the United States, although women applied to be astronauts in the 60s, and passed through the process, they were ineligible due to the fact that they weren’t military test pilots, which was a prerequisite for being an astronaut. In 1978, the space program was truly opened to women, due to the anti-discrimination laws passed.
As a result, The United States was significantly behind their Russian counterparts. The first American woman in space was Sally Ride in 1983. This was 20 years after the first Russian female cosmonaut. At the age of 32, Sally Ride was also the youngest American astronaut in space.
Roberta Bondar was the first woman in space from Canada. She went on mission in 1992 and was the second Canadian to be in space. Bondar was also the first neurologist to go to space. She was selected in 1983 to be one of the first Canadian astronauts and began her training in 1984. That’s a lot of training!
Chiaki Mukai was the first Japanese woman in space. She was selected in 1985, but did not fly until 1992. Mukai has over 566 hours in space and has spent a total of 23 days in space. She is also a physician.
In 2012 China sent its first woman to space, Liu Yang. She is a pilot and astronaut. Of the above named astronauts, she is the only one who is not currently retired. Her mission to space was launched exactly 49 years after Valentina Tereshkova’s flight was launched.
Tragedy in Space
Although these women didn’t actually go to space, it’s important to still remember them and include them in the conversation. Christa McAuliffe and Judith Resnick both died in the Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986. They were the first women to die on a space mission.
Judith Resnick was the second American woman in space and the fourth woman in space worldwide. She had her Ph.D in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland. Resnick was also the first Jewish American to be in space.
Christa McAuliffe would have been the first teacher in space. In 1985, NASA selected her to participate in the teacher in space program. She was going to teach a lesson from space. Because she was a teacher, many children were watching the launch in their schools and saw the explosion happen in real time.
Other Firsts For Women in Space
International Space Station
Peggy Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station. She completed her six month tour of duty on April 16, 2008.
Space Shuttle Pilots
Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot a space shuttle, from February 3-11, 1995.
Space Shuttle Commander
Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a space shuttle and she did so July 23-27, 1999. She commanded again July 26, 2005.
Space Station Expedition Crew Member
Susan Helms was on the second expedition, from March 2001-August 2001.
There are 11 women who have graduated from NASA Astronaut Classes between 2009 and 2017 who have not yet flown in space. We can only hope that they will soon join their fellow women and increase that total percentage just a smidge