The Stories Behind The Women Who Inspired Us From Above the Clouds

The Stories Behind The Women Who Inspired Us From Above the Clouds

Published by StarLust on the 14/07/2019
Artwork by Ed Blunt

Mothers, teachers, doctors, dreamers. 

Astronauts, Cosmonauts, Taikonauts, Spationauts.

They come from many countries, from many background, but shared one common dream – to reach the stars.

These women have paved the way to space for many generations to come.

Their stories perfectly demonstrates that perseverance, imagination and courage can lead to great things.

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Valentina Tereshkova

THE FIRST WOMAN IN SPACE (1963)

During the Cold War in 1963, the race for space was in full swing between the United States and the USSR. Both countries are making considerable efforts to impose their technological supremacy and space is gradually becoming their playground. In 1962, Valentina was selected among 5 other female candidates due to being particularly good at skydiving. The young woman followed exactly the same physical and mental tests as men.

Only one year after her selection, Valentina boarded the Vostok-6 spacecraft. The mission was to orbit around the Earth for about 3 days. In the end, she will perform 48 full orbits around our planet. But the trip was not easy and everything did not not go as planned. Due to a faulty software on board, the ship in which Valentina is located was moving further away from Earth instead of slowly falling back toward its surface. The ground staff realise this just in time to rectify the shot and prevent the capsule from being lost in the infinite space.

Returning to Earth was also difficult: communications with the ground were cut during the descent. At the moment of impact, the young cosmonaut smashed her nose against her helmet, and was forced to conceal the wound with make-up during the official ceremonies that followed. The landing took place in the Altai region, between Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Lost in this mountainous area, Soviet scientists will take five hours to locate her.

Valentina Tereshkova remains to this day the youngest woman to be in space, she was only 26 years old at the time.

Valentina Tereshkova

"A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women."

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Sally Ride

THE FIRST AMERICAN WOMAN IN SPACE (1983)

Born in 1951, Sally Ride grew up in California and had a degree in physics and English at the prestigious Stanford University. She was among the 8,900 candidates who responded to NASA’s recruitment announcement in 1977. But only 34 of them had been selected. In 1978, Sally Ride was one of six women joining the space agency teams.

Sally Ride flew into space for the first time in June 1983 aboard a Space Shuttle Challenger. At 32, she became the first American to have touched the stars. In 1987, Sally Ride left NASA and returned to Stanford, where she became a lecturer. In 2001, she created Sally Ride Science, an institution whose goal is to encourage elementary and high school children to study science by making it fun and interesting.

Throughout her career, Sally received many honors and awards including joining the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She has also received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the Von Braun Award and the Theodore Roosevelt Award from the NCAA. 

She eventually passed in 2012 at the age of 61. Tributes have multiplied across the world to honor the memory of this woman considered a pioneer and a true “national heroine”.

Sally Ride “broke through barriers with grace and professionalism and literally changed the US space program,” US Space Agency boss Charles Bolden said in a statement.

Sally Ride

"Even though NASA tries to simulate launch, and we practice in simulators, it's not the same - it's not even close to the same"

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Eileen Collins

FIRST FEMALE SPACE SHUTTLE PILOT & COMMANDER

Eileen Collins was admitted to the Vance Air Force base in Oklahoma in 1979, at the age of 23 years old. She obtained her pilot’s license before becoming an instructor and then a lieutenant-colonel. In 1991, she joined the astronaut corps of NASA. In 1995, she went to space for the first time and became the first woman to fly a space shuttle during the Discovery’s rendez-vous mission with the Mir space station. Four years later, on July 20, 1999, she took command of the space shuttle Columbia launched from Cape Canaveral. 

A few facts about her:

  • Eileen graduated from Elmira Free Academy in 1974. She received her associate’s degree in math two years later and originally wanted to be a math teacher.
  • Between 1995 and 1999, she had accumulated around 419 hours in space.
  • Eileen Collins was awarded several medals for her work including Defense Superior Service Medal and National Space Trophy.
  • She retired from the US Air Force in 2005 and from NASA in 2006. During her career, she spent more than 36 days in space.

Eileen Marie Collins is the first woman, and the only one to date, to take command of a shuttle mission.

Learn More about her:

Eileen Collins

"We want to explore. We're curious people. Look back over history, people have put their lives at stake to go out and explore ... We believe in what we're doing."

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Helen Sharman

FIRST BRITISH ASTRONAUT IN SPACE

Helen Sharman was born on the 30th of May 1963, in Grenoside, a suburb of Sheffield located in the county of South Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. She studied at the University of Sheffield and obtained a doctorate in chemistry in 1984.

In 1989, four years before the construction of the International Space Station began, a group of British companies signed an agreement with the Soviet Union to work on a common project to send cosmonauts to the Mir space station. It was located in an orbit between 300 and 400 kilometers from the Earth’s surface, completing one full orbit of our planet in less than two hours.

In 1989, Helen Sharman heard an announcement on the radio, explaining the imminent selection of British scientists for a Russian space mission. In November 1989, she was selected among 13,000 other candidates to take part in an 18 months training at the Gagarin Training Center in Russia. Helen underwent a rigorous selection process, which focused on medical and psychological evaluations. Upon completing this intense training, she was finally selected as a “cosmonaut” for the mission.

The Soyuz TM-12 was launched on May 18, 1991 and was docked at the Mir station on May 20, 1991. On that day, Helen Sharman became the first British person to go into space.

Once in space, Helen’s tasks included medical, agricultural and chemical experiments,  as well as materials testing and Earth observation work. On the 28th of May 1991, Helen returned to Earth and landed in Kazakhstan. 

There is no doubt that the whole UK was proud to have their first British female astronaut complete a successful space mission and returned home safely.

Learn More about her:

Helen Sharman

"I still dream about being on the space station with the feeling of being weightless. The weightlessness is the most amazing, relaxing and natural feeling."

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Kalpana Chawla

FIRST INDIAN WOMAN IN SPACE

Kalpana Chawla was born in Karnal, India, in 1961 and she arrived in the United States in the 1980s. She obtained a PhD in Aerospace Technology at the University of Colorado in 1988. In the early 1990s she became a US citizen and joined a space travel program led by NASA in 1994 . During her first mission, she participated in the deployment of a satellite. She then took part in a second mission for the International Space Station in 2003. She will carry out numerous experiments, particularly in the field of microgravity or astronaut safety.

Unfortunately, when returning from this mission, the shuttle is damaged when it enters orbit. The shuttle is destroyed before landing, leaving no survivors. She receives many posthumous distinctions from NASA and the US government.

The Deep Purple group, of which the young woman was a fan, composed an instrumental piece in their memory entitled “Contact Lost”. All the revenus generated by the song were paid to the families.

Learn More about her:

Kalpana Chawla

"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."

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Mae Jemison

FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMAN IN SPACE

Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17 1956 in Decatur, Alabama (United States). From a young age, Mae dreams of traveling in space and shows great interest in science.

At 16, she enters Stanford University. Her student years are not easy; racism and sexism are a constant problem and some teachers and students gives her a hard time. Her assertive and confident character helped her through these years, and in 1977 she obtained a degree in engineering in chemical engineering and then a medical degree in 1981.

In 1983, Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Mae Jemison concludes that the astronaut recruitment program opens and postulates in 1983 and again in 1987. She is then selected with fourteen other candidates, among about 2,000 postulants. She was one of the first to be recruited after the 1986 Challenger shuttle crash, in which seven astronauts died.

In September 1992, she participated in Mission STS-47. Aboard the Endeavor, Mae becomes the first black woman in space, and carries with her a photo of Bessie Coleman, the first black woman to obtain a pilot’s license. During the mission, she conducted several experiments, particularly on weightlessness and motion sickness. She resigned from NASA in 1993 and found her own company, the Jemison Group, to conduct research and develop science and technology for everyday living. 

Mae Jemison is registered at the National Hall of Fame.

Mae Jamison

"Once I got into space, I was feeling very comfortable in the universe. I felt like I had a right to be anywhere in this universe, that I belonged here as much as any speck of stardust, any comet, any planet"

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Claudie Haigneré

FIRST FRENCH WOMAN IN SPACE

Driven by an infinite thirst for knowledge, Claudie followed a path quite out of the ordinary. She graduated at the age of 15-year-old, and became a  doctor of medicine at the age of 24. Claudie Haigneré also studied biomechanics and obtained a doctorate in neuroscience. In 1996, she became the first French female astronaut and stayed 17 days aboard the Mir Orbital Station following a selection process that lasted 11 years! In 2001, she was the first French astronaut to fly aboard the International Space Station.

She will then become Minister Delegate for Research from 2002 to 2004, then Minister Delegate for European Affairs in 2004-2005. Since 2015, Claudie Haigneré has been working at the European Space Agency (ESA). Thanks to her curiosity and her philosophy of “Why not me?”, Claudie Haigneré is often considered as a pioneer who demonstrated to many that women can play the leading roles in the field of science, medicine and politics.

In 2008, women accounted for only 10% of candidates for space missions. A percentage identical to that of 1985 when Claudie Haigneré had herself applied. Claudie has often expressed her commitment to promote a greater diversity in the field of science. In her speeches and interviews, she regularly invites women to go beyond gender stereotypes and self-censorship.

Learn More about her:

Claudie Haigneré​

"The fight for equality is still with us"

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