Though many of us did not notice, April 9, 2010 was a historic day for humankind.
When the shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station, three women, Naoko Yamazaki, Stephanie Wilson, and Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, were part of that seven person crew. Waiting onboard the ISS was Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who had launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 2. Out of the 13 people currently aboard the ISS, the four history-making women are a former schoolteacher, a chemist who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers. Three are from the United States and one from Japan. Collectively, they represent the largest number of women in orbit at one time in human spaceflight history.
All of this points out the undeniable fact that there are women who indeed excel in math and science, regardless of stereotypes. If they are encouraged to do so, one day they might make even more history.
Since Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova’s June 1963 flight aboard Vostok 6 gave her the distinction of becoming the first woman in space, there have been 54 women from the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Great Britain that have followed in her footsteps.
Others followed to make history in their own right, like cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya did. She was not only the second woman launched into space in 1982, she was the first woman launched into space twice. On July 17, 1984 she became the first woman to perform a space walk.
In June 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman launched into space. Dr. Mae Jemison became the first African-American woman in space in September 1992. She was quickly followed by Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Latina astronaut in space on April 1993.
Eileen Collins holds the distinction of not only being the first woman to pilot a space shuttle in February 1995 – in July 1999, she became the first woman to command a space shuttle mission.
Sadly, four American spacefaring women have died, their sacrifices performed right alongside the men.
S. Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, and Judith Resnik perished in the January 1986 Challenger explosion shortly after its ill fated liftoff.
Dr. Kalpana Chawla and Dr. Laurel Clark died when the shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas during reentry on February 1, 2003
Even though the US space program faces an uncertain future with the end of the shuttle program, other nations, such as Japan, Russia and China, are gearing up their space exploration efforts. The ambitious Chinese space exploration plans include launching a female taikonaut into space.
With the increasingly long list of feminine spacefaring role models to look up to and the increasing importance of space exploration to humankind’s future, we can only hope that there will be more women from around the world reaching for the stars. We need them to. Our daughters in particular do.