Five Badass Female Astronauts You Should Know About
**I originally wrote this in 2015 for another website which has since closed down, so I thought I’d republish it here – Enjoy!**
There are so many inspirational women working in STEM fields that deserve our attention, but none more so than those who risk their lives to travel into space in order to further our knowledge of the universe and test the limits of human potential.
Here I’ve listed a few women - some you might have heard of, and some perhaps not - who have gone above and beyond, all in the name of science and space exploration.
Samantha Cristoforetti (1977 - )
“When you discover new things every minute and your mind is absorbing so many experiences, it feels like time expands.
Samantha Cristoforetti was the first Italian woman in space, but you might recognise her from a recent photo that did the rounds on Twitter:
That’s her dressed as Star Trek’s Captain Kathryn Janeway aboard the International Space Station, where she currently lives and works.
She set off to the ISS in November 2014 as part of expeditions 42 and 53 of the Futura mission with the Italian Space Agency, and will remain there until May 2015.
Whilst on board, Cristoforetti’s main tasks are to run various scientific experiments in physical science, biology and human physiology as well as radiation research that cannot be performed on Earth. The experiments are performed in the ISS’s microgravity laboratory and aim to try and discover ways to improve life on Earth or aid us in further human exploration of our Solar System.
Watch Cristoforettitalk about her mission here:
Cristoforetti joined the European Space Agency in in September 2009, completing basic astronaut training in November 2010. She is also Captain in the Italian Air Force and has logged over 500 hours flying six different types of military aircraft.
Valentina Tereshkova (1937 - )
"If women can be railroad workers in Russia, why can't they fly in space?"
Next up is Valentina Tereskova, who was not only the world’s first female astronaut, but also the first civilian astronaut too.
When she was born in 1937 in Russia, her father was a tractor driver and her mother worked in a cotton mill. She didn’t go to school until she was 8 years old but was accepted into the Soviet space program due to her experience with parachute jumping, which she gained whilst a member of Yaroslavl Air Sports Club as a young adult.
At just 26 years on in June 1963, Tereshkova piloted the Vostok 6 spacecraft, completing 48 Earth orbits in 71 hours. When she returned, she had clocked more time in space than all the other US astronauts combined.
During her flight, Tereshkova collected data in order to study the impact of spaceflight on the female body, as well as talking photographs of the Earth’s horizon that were used to identify the Earth’s aerosol layers.
The flight was almost a tragedy though, when an error in her spacecraft’s automatic navigation software caused it to drift off course, away from Earth. Fortunately, Tereshkova noticed and Soviet scientists on the ground quickly developed a new landing algorithm, landing her safely with nothing but a bruised face.
She never went into space again, but is now heavily involved in Russian politics, serving as a member of the Russian parliament.
Kalpana Chawla (1961 – 2003)
“When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.”
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-born woman in space and the first Indian-America astronaut.
She obtained her a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the US, becoming an official citizen in the 1980s.
She then earned a masters and a doctorate in aerospace engineering and began working at NASA’s Ames Research Centre on power-lift computational fluid dynamics.
After being selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994, she began working with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles.
Her first flight into space occurred in 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87.
During her second Columbia voyage, she and her crew completed over 80 experiments during their 16-day flight. She died during Columbia’s tragic re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere in 2003.
In total, Chawla logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space, but not before becoming a hero and role model for young Indian women everywhere.
Mae Jemison (1956 – )
Mae Jemison is best know for becoming the first African American woman to travel into space, aboard the 1992 mission on the space shuttle Endeavour.
At high school, she decided she wanted a career in biomedical engineering, and after graduation in 1973 as a consistent honor student, she entered Stanford University on a National Achievement Scholarship.
She also studied in Cuba and Kenya and worked at a Cambodian refugee camp in Thailand.
After she obtained her M.D. in 1981, Jemison worked as a general practitioner, and then became Peace Corps medical officer for Sierra Leone and Liberia where she also taught and did medical research.
On her return to the US in 1985, Jemison decided to chase the career she’d always dreamed of and applied for NASA's astronaut training program. She was one of 15 candidates chosen from around 2,000.
On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally realised her dream and flew into space alongside 6 other astronauts. She spent 8 days in space, conducting experiments on weightlessness and motion sickness on the crew and herself. She spent more than 190 hours in space before returning to Earth on September 20, 1992.
In 1993, Jemison become the first real astronaut to appear in Star Trek, when she played Lieutenant Palmer in the Star Trek: Next Generation episode "Second Chances”.
In recognition of her accomplishments, Jemison has received 9 honorary doctorates and has also spoken at the TED conference, where she asks schools to teach the arts and sciences as one in order to develop bold thinking from the next generation of teenagers:
Sally Ride (1951 – 2012)
“The world and our perceptions have changed a lot, even since the ’70s, but there are lingering stereotypes. If you ask an 11-year-old to draw a scientist, she’s likely to draw a geeky guy with a pocket protector. That’s just not an image an 11-year-old girl aspires to.”
Sally Ride, perhaps the most well-known woman in this list, was the first American woman in space, and is now also thought to be the first known LGBT astronaut.
Ride studied at Stanford University and beat 1,000 other applicants for a place in NASA's astronaut program. After completing training, she joined the Challenger shuttle mission on June 18, 1983. As a mission specialist, she helped deploy satellites amongst a number of other projects, finally returning to Earth on June 24. She completed another mission to space the following year, but her third was cancelled due to the Challenger disaster.
After NASA, Ride became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego. Then in 2001, she started her own company called Sally Ride Science. She served as president and CEO, helping to create educational programs and products to inspire girls and young women to pursue their interests in STEM fields.
Ride died suddenly in 2012 at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer. Following the news, it was discovered that fellow professor Tam O’Shaughnessy had been Ride’s partner for 27 years, making Sally Ride the first ever known LGBT astronaut in the world.
Alyssa Carson (2001 - )
To end this list, I’ve included a future astronaut – at least, that’s what she’s (and I) are hoping!
At just 14 years of age, Alyssa Carson is determined to be the first person to land on Mars, and has spent the last 11 years working towards fulfilling her dream.
At the age of 13, Carson has already attended Space Camp 7 times, Space Academy 3 times and Robotics Academy once. She is the first person to complete all the NASA Space Camps, including Space Camp Turkey and Space Camp Canada. She’s also witnessed 3 Space Shuttle launches, attended Sally Ride Camp at MIT, and three Sally Ride Day camps.
But if that wasn’t enough, Carson also speaks Spanish, French, Chinese and some Turkish and delivers motivational speeches to other children.