During the start of the space race, women were excluded from being Astronauts. The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, wouldn’t fly until 1983, 20 years after the Soviets flew the first woman in space. But even as policies kept women out of the coveted role of Astronaut, Women have always played a vital role in the space program.
The Mercury 13
- Myrtle Cagle
- Jerrie Cobb
- Janet Dietrich
- Marion Dietrich
- Wally Funk
- Sarah Gorelick
- Jane Briggs Hart
- Jean Hixson
- Rhea Woltman
- Gene Nora Stumbough
- Irene Leverton
- Jerri Sloan
- Bernice Steadman
While the Mercury 13 were not NASA Astronauts, that isn’t because they were not deserving of the title. As the US had its group of seven men, the Mercury 7, to participate in the official Mercury program, the Mercury 13 was a group of 13 women who, as part of a privately funded program, underwent the same physiological screenings and tests as the Mercury 7. As, at the time, women could not become jet test pilots, they would not be considered for Astronaut positions, despite the Mercury 13 being pilots.
Many of these women lobbied congress and the White House to allow women to be considered for the astronaut program. Eventually, one of the Mercury 13, Wally Funk, went on to fly to space on a private suborbital spaceflight on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.
First American woman in space
Sally Ride was an astronaut and physicist. In 1978, Sally Ride was accepted as part of astronaut group 8, the first group to accept women. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space on Space Shuttle Challenger during STS-7. Ride flew to space once again on Challenger during STS-41-G.
First female pilot & commander of a Space Shuttle
Eileen Collins first launched to space on Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-63 on February 3, 1995. She served as pilot of the spacecraft while James Wetherbee was the commander. She piloted a space shuttle once again during STS-84, this time it was Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1997. Just two years later, in 1999, she became the first woman to command a space shuttle as she commanded STS-93, a flight of Space Shuttle Columbia which deployed the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
She would once again return and command a space shuttle, this time Discovery, for the space shuttle’s return-to-flight following the loss of Columbia.
NASA celebrates women’s history month
As NASA looks forward to humanity’s return to the Moon, this time women will be landing on the surface. In addition to the many women at NASA and private spaceflight companies working behind the scenes on everything from the flight software to the rocket hardware, female NASA astronauts will be making the journey in the Orion capsule as the Artemis program truly ramps up.