By Tara Kurup
Image via Space.com
Women have been breaking barriers for a long time, all the way to the moon and back-- literally. From equal pay to space, women have been fighting to show the world they are capable of doing anything. These five female astronauts are inspiring young girls to reach for the stars, as they have been surrounded by them.
Valentina Tereshkova was born in the Yaroslavl area in Russia. At the age of sixteen, she was employed at a factory. A Soviet space official found out female cosmonauts were being trained in America, and many wanted the cosmonauts group being trained in the Soviet Union to include women. The 400 women in the group had to be cut down to five. After seeing Tereshkova’s parachute jumping skill, she made the cut.
After a year of training, Tereshkova’s launch took place on June 16, 1963. She orbited the Earth 48 times in a span over three days at the age of 26, making her youngest female astronaut. Later, she was awarded with the Gold Star Medal, the Order of Lenin, the title of “Hero of the Soviet,” and many more international recognitions. Tereshkova was declared the first female in space, and the only woman to have gone on a solo mission.
Sally Ride was born in Encino, California on May 26, 1951. Ride was very athletic as a teenager, winning multiple tennis awards like the top twenty national junior tennis players. By 1973, he had earned her Bachelor's Degree of Science in physics, her Bachelor's Degree of Arts in english, and her Master’s Degree of Science in Science from Stanford University. Ride applied to be part of the NASA class of 1978 after realizing she could join because of her knowledge of science. Only five women, including Ride, were taken into the program.
On June 18, 1983 Ride made history by becoming the first American woman in space, the youngest American in space at age 26, and the first gay astronaut. Among the four other crew members, Ride was the flight engineer on the space shuttle the Challenger STS-7. She went on another mission in ‘84 in the STS-41G, making observations of the Earth from space. Ride unfortunately passed away in a battle with cancer in 2012, but her legacy encouraged young girls to work hard and break barriers.
Mae C. Jemison
Mae Jemison was born on October 17, 1956 in Decatur, Alabama. For better education opportunities, the Jemisons moved to Illinois at three. Jemison enjoyed learning about astrology as a child, but highschool made her discover new fields like biomedical engineering. At Stanford University, she served as the head of the Black Student Union. She graduated in 1977, earning a Bachelor’s degree of science in chemical engineering.
After staying in Sierra Leone and Liberia for medical research opportunities, she came back to the U.S. to find out applications were open for NASA’s training program. She and 15 others out of the 2,000 applicants were picked, making her the first African-American female admitted. After a year of training, she was aboard the Endeavour on June 4, 1987 making her the first African-America female in space. Along with the awards she received like the Ebony Black Achievement Award, she had a school in Detroit named after her. She wanted the world to know that women and other minority groups can contribute if they are given a chance.
Kalpana Chawla was born on July 1, 1961 in Karnal, India. As a kid, she wanted to be an aerospace engineer after her dad showed her an aircraft club near their home. In a film about Chawla, the narrator says “Karna, a small town in India, a little girl roams the woods on a bicycle to the Flying Club out there. She dreamt of the skies, of the stars, of the vast silence beyond. She had a passion to explore new worlds.”
On November 19, 1997, Chawla was launched on the Columbia as the operator for the prime robotic arm. This made her the first Indian-born woman in space. Unfortunately on February 1, 2003 she was killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster. She was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 2004, and had the Kalpana Chawla Hall built for her by the University of Texas.
Liu Yang was born on October 6, 1978 in Zhengzhou, Henan. Following her passion of flight, she graduated from People's Liberation Army Air Force Aviation College of Changchun, and became part of the People's Liberation Army Air Force in 1997. After 1,680 hours of flight experience and 2 years of astronaut training, Yang became a candidate for the astronaut corps along with one other woman.
Yang was known to be a quick learner. Even with a late start of a year to training, she quickly caught on with the rest of the crew. On June 16, 2012, the crew of the Shenzhou-IX was launched, making Yang the first Chinese woman in space. Yang was in charge of conducting experiments during the mission. "I am grateful to the motherland and the people. I feel honored to fly into space on behalf of hundreds of millions of female Chinese citizens.” Yang said at a press conference.
After hearing these women’s stories, I feel inspired, and you should too. All of these women believe one thing; no matter what your gender is, you are able to accomplish anything, and you should not let anyone stop you. If these females have broken barriers placed around them all the way to space, you can do anything.
王建芬. “Liu Yang, China’s First Female Astronaut.” CPC CHINA, RSS, cpcchina.chinadaily.com.cn/2012-12/03/content_15981597.htm. Accessed 18 Apr. 2021.
Editors, Biography. com.
“Mae C. Jemison.” The Biography.Com Website, A&E Television Networks, 2 Apr. 2014, www.biography.com/astronaut/mae-c-jemison.
Anderson, Ashlee. Sally Ride. 16 Aug. 2018, www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sally-ride.
Gillis, Katie. “Astronaut Friday: Kalpana Chawla.” Space Center Houston, 22 Nov. 2019, spacecenter.org/astronaut-friday-kalpana-chawla.
The Moscow Times. “On This Day Valentina Tereshkova, the First Woman in Space, Was Born.” The Moscow Times, 18 Apr. 2021, www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/03/06/on-this-day-valentina-tereshkova-the-first-woman-in-space-was-born-a69548.
Written by writer Tara Krump