There is nothing quite like watching a space shuttle take off for the heavens. For many of us, growing up in the space age meant dreaming of going to space camp and imagining what life as an astronaut would be like. These six female astronauts lived that life and you should know about them.
1. Sally Ride
Sally Ride is the first American woman in space; the third worldwide. In 1977, NASA started looking for female astronauts. Ride responded to an ad in her school newspaper asking for females to apply to the astronaut program. They received 8,000 responses, and Ride was one of the six women that were picked for the job. She left on her first flight on June 18, 1983, when the space shuttle Challenger launched its STS-7 mission. During her career, she spent 343 hours in space, served as a ground-bases capsule communicator, and helped develop the space shuttle’s “Canadarm” robot arm. She passed away from pancreatic cancer when she was 61.
2. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison is the first African American female astronaut. She received her MD in 1981 and worked as a general practitioner and then as a Peace Corps medical officer. When she returned stateside, she made a career change and applied to NASA’s astronaut training program. In 1987, she was admitted and left on her only flight in 1992 as a mission specialist. During her eight days in space, she executed experiments about weightlessness and motion sickness. She retired from NASA in 1993 and went on to form her own company, The Jemison Group. Her company researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life. She also appeared as Lieutenant Palmer in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
3. Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins has the honor of being the first female shuttle commander. After graduating college, she enrolled in the pilot training course at Vance Air Force Base. After completing the course in 1979, she stayed at Vance as an instructor for three years. She became the second woman to graduate from the Air Force test pilot school and was selected by NASA to be an astronaut in 1990. In 1995, she became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle mission and in 1999, she left for her first flight as a commander on the Columbia. In 2005, she commanded NASA’s “Return to Flight” mission with the Discovery. She retired from the Air Force in 2005 and from NASA in 2006 after a successful career.
4. Barbara Morgan
Barbara Morgan is the first teacher-astronaut to complete a shuttle mission. Morgan began teaching remedial reading and math in 1974 on the Flathead Indian Reservation. In 1985, she was named the backup candidate for NASA’s Teacher in Space program. Christa McAulifee, who was the one chosen to go on the mission, died in the Challenger Explosion. After, Morgan assumed the duties of Teacher in Space designee and returned to teaching. During her mission in 2007, she was a Mission Specialist and acted as the loadmaster, responsible for the 5,000 pounds of supplies. She also operated the shuttle’s robotic arms during the spacewalks. She left NASA in 2008 to teach at Bosie State University.
5. Ellen Ochoa
Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic female astronaut when she went on a nine-day mission aboard the Discovery in 1993. She started with NASA in 1988 working as a research engineer at the Ames Research Center. In 1990, she was selected by NASA and trained as a mission specialist and flight engineer, becoming an astronaut in 1991. In total, Ochoa went on four missions and logged over 950 hours in space. In 2007, she served as Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center and in 2013, became the first Hispanic and second female director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center where she still is today. During her career, she also worked as Assistant for Space Station to the Chief of the Astronaut Office, Acting Deputy Chief of the Astronaut Office, and lead spacecraft communicator in Mission Control.
6. Judith A. Resnik
Judith A. Resnik was one of the astronauts who lost their lives when the Challenger exploded in 1986. She was the second American female, the first Jewish American, and first Jewish woman to go to space. She was recruited into the astronaut program in 1978. Her first flight was as a mission specialist on Discovery in 1984. She was also a mission specialist on the Challenger.
By Julie Provost
Julie Provost is an associate editor at Military One Click and a National Guard spouse. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.