Women in space

On Kalpana Chawla’s birth anniversary 17th March, a look at some women astronauts who made their mark in the field.

In 1961, the erstwhile USSR created history by sending the first human to space. Two years after cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s space travel, Soviet sent the first woman beyond 100 km of the Earth’s altitude. Since then, the world has sent over 530 persons to space so far and of them 60 were women.

There are other women astronauts who have made their journey to space. Here are some prominent names.

Valentina Tereshkova

Autographed photograph of Valentina Tereshkova

 On June 16, 1963, by piloting the Soviet spaceflight Vostok 6, Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova not only became the first woman to visit the space, but also the first-ever civilian to do so. She completed 48 orbits of the Earth in her three days in space. She was a member of Communist Party and was active in politics in Russia even after the collapse of USSR.

Svetlana Savitskaya

Nineteen years later Soviet sent the second woman to space. That was Svetlana Savitskaya. Two year later, she became the first woman to carry out a spacewalk. Of the 57 Russian spacewalkers, Savitskaya is the only woman to carry out the feat so far.

Sally Ride

 Just 23 days after USSR sent its person to space, USA sent Alan B. Shepard. But it took 23 years for the NASA to send a woman to space. Sally Ride, though with NASA since 1978, made it to the lower earth. She was part of the seven-member STS crew aboard the Challenger shuttle, which conducted pharmaceutical experiments and deployed communication satellites.

Judith Resnik

A November, 1985, NASA file photo shows the crew of the doomed Challenger space shuttle (L-R front row) Astronauts Mike Smith, Dick Scobee, Ron McNair and (L-R, rear row) Ellison Onizuka, school teacher Christa McAuliffe, Greg Jarvis, and Judith Resnik.

 Judith Resnik was the second American woman on space and unfortunately the first woman astronaut to die in a space shuttle crash. Resnik was part of the seven-member crew that on Challenger shuttle orbiter, which disintegrated barely 73 seconds into its flight in 1984. The Challenger mission was only the second mission of Resnik.

Anna Lee Fisher

American astronaut Anna Lee Fisher, who has two daughters with her fellow astronaut William Frederick Fisher, was the first mother on space. In 1984, she spent 192 hours in space when her eldest daughter was barely two-years old.

Shannon Lucid

Shannon Lucid was the first woman to work on a space station. Lucid’s first space flight was in June 1985. Her fifth mission lasted for 188 days, in which she spent 179 days in Mir, the Russian space station. She held the record for the most hours by a woman until 2007 when Sunita Williams broke it.

Kathryn C. Thornton

Kathryn C. Thornton was the first woman to perform multiple extravehicular activity or EVA, a term used to denote any activity performed outside a spacecraft. Thornton has stayed 975 hours in space, including 21 hours of EVAs.

Helen Sharman

Helen Sharman is the first British astronaut. She worked at Mir station during a U.K-Russia joint space programme. South Korea and Iran are the two other countries whose first astronauts were women.

Millie Hughes-Fulford

Millie Hughes-Fulford was the first woman astronaut who flew aboard a NASA Space Shuttle mission as a Payload Specialist. She flew to space in the first-ever Spacelab Life Sciences mission dedicated to biomedical studies to collect medical data.

Kalpana Chawla

 Kalpana Chawla needs no introduction for Indians. She was the first Indian to reach space. She first flew on Space Shuttle Columbia in 1997 as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator. Six years later, she took her second trip to flight that ended in disaster. When the Columbia space shuttle was returning to the Earth’s atmosphere it disintegrated just 16 minutes before its landing, killing all seven crew members including Chawla.

India renamed its meteorological series of satellites, MetSat, to Kalpana in her honour.

Peggy Whitson

 Peggy Annette Whitson is the first female commander of the ISS with Expedition 16. As of today, Whitson has spent 376 days in space making her the female to have spent most time in space. She is currently at the ISS on Expedition 50 and is scheduled to return April 2017.

Sunita Williams

 The Indian-origin Sunita Williams holds the record for for total spacewalks by a woman. She has performed seven spacewalks spending 50 hours, 40 minutes in it during her five missions. She is currently part of US’ Commercial spaceflights programme.


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