“A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” – Valentina Tereshkova
When we think about space exploration, we often think of the first person to step foot on the Moon. The first man. No big deal, right? We set out and conquered that “astronomical” obstacle and won the race to the Moon with our Russian pals. But who was it that sent us up there in the first place? Who had some grand scheme all those years ago to put guys on the highest point on Earth? And how did they do this? A woman changed our perception of those who go into space forever.
In this article, we will get to know in detail about the contributions of women in space exploration. Hold tight, we are ready to take off.
Contributions Of Women In Space Missions
To understand some of this fascinating history, let’s go back many decades before Neil Armstrong took his famous giant leap for mankind. We must travel back to the 1940s before the space race began and NASA even existed. The House Committee on Science and Astronautics was created in 1958, with one woman leading it: Ralph J. Hall (D), Texas, Chair.
When Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova launched aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, she became the first woman in space. This opened up new possibilities for women astronauts by inspiring them to pursue their dreams of flying into space; however, plans to launch more female cosmonauts never materialized and another woman did not fly until 20 years later.
“If we want scientists and engineers in the future, we should be cultivating the girls as much as the boys.” – Sally Ride
As the first woman to visit Russia’s Mir space station, Helen P. Sharman has earned a distinction that few people can claim. She is known for her contributions during Juno, which was an eight-day privately funded mission in May 1991 where she conducted life sciences experiments and also talked with British children on Earth over radio transmissions.
In 1994, Elena Kondakova became the first female cosmonaut to complete a long-duration mission in space. She was aboard Soyuz TM20 and spent 169 days on Mir as part of Expedition 17 before returning home on March 22, 1995.
In August of 1996, Claudie Andre-Déshays became the first woman in France to go on a space mission. She spent two weeks aboard Mir conducting life and physical sciences experiments as well as technology tasks during her time with Cassiopée.
When Shannon Lucid launched aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis on March 22, 1996 she became the first American woman to successfully complete a long-duration mission. She stayed on board for 188 days and returned with STS-79 three months later.
Melroy came to the ISS twice. The first time, she was a pilot responsible for completing STS-92 and adding Z1 trusses, control moment gyros (CMGs), and Pressurized Mating Adaptors (PMAs) to the developing station. Her second mission as commander of STS-120 added more components such as Harmony connecting modules 1 & 2 [to] Kibo’s Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility/External Logistics Carrier 7A + 7B (JEM EF).
Eileen M. Collins was already making history as the first female pilot and commander, but in 2005 she became the first woman to command a shuttle mission that successfully docked with the space station and returned safely back into Earth’s atmosphere after two years of hiatus due to Columbia accident.
In May of 2010, four women lived on the space station simultaneously for a week. The three shuttle crew members included Tracy Caldwell Dyson and two others who joined her at Expedition 23. After their departure in early June, another trio arrived to continue living there including Shannon Walker as part of an entirely new expedition called EXP 24 or Expedition 25.
We cannot end the list without mention of the two Chinese astronauts who flew into orbit. China’s first female astronaut, Liu Yang launched to Tiangong-1 on June 16th, 2012 with her crewmates to dock for 13 days before returning home. One year later another woman named Wang Yaping was launched aboard Shenzhou-10 where they spent 14 days at Tiangong-1 conducting science experiments and teaching physics lessons live via satellite broadcast all over China.
In the month of November in 2014, a pair of women began their expedition onboard the International Space Station. Elena O. Serova was from Russia and Samantha Cristoforetti came from Italy to become two pioneering female astronauts making long-duration missions aboard ISS for ESA (European Space Agency).
As March 2021 rolls around, it is right that we recognize these amazing achievements by both this contemporary set as well those who came before them – pioneers if you would like to call them so – leading up to the present day’s stellar achievers!
38 women have visited ISS as long-duration expedition crew members, visitors on shuttle assembly flights or flight participants; 65 female astronauts in total flew into space out of which 38 were part of expeditions aboard the International Space Station (ISS), others being just passengers for short duration missions and even fewer visiting only once during their lifetime with no further visit planned ever again.
Why have women have been excluded in space travel for so long?
So why has it taken us this long to really consider the impact of women in space? Well, for one, there are many theories as to why women have been excluded from space for so long. One theory is that “a lack of encouragement” prevents women from achieving great things.
Also, such a dangerous environment such as space isn’t exactly ideal for women who may be pregnant. This is an issue that many scientists and politicians must consider before sending women into space.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that there are other reasons why we haven’t had any lady astronauts up to this point in history.
According to Laura Woodmansee, author of ” Women in Space: Reaching for the Stars”, the real reason is primarily rooted in money.
Though women aren’t discriminated against when it comes to their qualifications, they do face a wage gap. This leads to fewer female astronauts, and ultimately not much interest from the media. Though it’s important to consider the fact that Sally Ride received a huge amount of press attention when she was appointed to serve on the commission.
The lack of interest from female astronauts is certainly understandable since space travel isn’t exactly cheap. And as Woodmansee points out, “the idea of choosing one allocation of resources over another must be weighed carefully”. She also brings up an important point that we cannot ignore; if we had more female astronauts, we would change the way space exploration is done.
If women aren’t seen in such a profitable field like aerospace, it’s not likely many will pursue their dreams of going into space.
Are women’s bodies made for space?
Advantages of women body in space:
Women’s bodies have been found to be better suited for spaceflight than men’s. For example, women tend to lose bone density at a slower rate and may also benefit from higher levels of the sleep hormone melatonin during their menstrual cycles compared with men. Women are more likely to experience depression or anxiety in isolated environments like that on Earth but this does not seem as prevalent in microgravity conditions where there is less social isolation due possibly because they adapt easier and/or recover quicker after long-duration flights (NASA 2014).
Whenever we send a space mission, every pound counts. A woman will typically weigh less than men and take up fewer resources to carry around while in outer space. Also, women’s bodies are more efficient so they need less food compared to their male counterparts on average which mean that there is enough food for everyone if it were divided evenly among the crew members over time considering this fact about weight differences between genders.
Because of the lack of gravity, men suffer more issues with their eyesight on long missions. The fluid pressure behind a man’s eye remains high throughout his time in space and this causes damage to his retinas that is not seen as often for women astronauts.
Women are also at a possible disadvantage when it comes to space travel. For example, female astronauts are more likely to get urinary tract infections (which the medical team can treat with antibiotics). Additionally, they may be exposed to more radiation than their male counterparts due to having additional fat deposits around vital organs.
5 Inspiring Women and Contrubution of Women in Space
“International cooperation is very necessary. Chinese have a saying, ‘When all the people collect the wood, you will make a great fire.’” – Liu Yang
Women have made great strides in space exploration. They have proven themself by taking on tasks no one else will. Here are some prime examples of women who changed the way we perceive humans and their journey towards space:
Sally Ride, the first woman who travelled to space was the one to break the barriers for women everywhere. Sally Ride had a vision of encouraging young girls to pursue their dreams, even if they seem “out of this world.” She wrote four science books for children and also helped create the Sally Ride Science organization.
As most of us might have heard, Mae Jemison was the first African American woman in space. As a science mission specialist, she worked for NASA and spent more than a week in orbit on the Endeavor Space Shuttle. Since leaving NASA, she has held several leadership roles in both business and academia.
Jessica Meir was the first astronaut to be chosen for NASA’s Astronaut Class of 2013. After earning her Ph.D., she served as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard University. She is a professor at Harvard’s School of Medicine and an animal behaviour researcher. She is also a scientific advisor to the San Francisco-based One Drop Foundation, which supports access to clean water worldwide.
Kalpana Chawla was the first Indian-American woman in space. Kalpana served as a mission specialist and primary robotic arm operator for NASA’s Columbia Shuttle. Kalpana Chawla died in the Columbia shuttle disaster. After her death, she has been honoured with many tributes, including a street named after her near JPL Pasadena, California.
Another strong woman in our list- Judith Resnik. She was the first Jewish woman to travel to space. After teaching at Carnegie Mellon University, she joined NASA as a research fellow. Before Judith Resnik was an astronaut, she became interested in science at a young age. She studied electrical engineering and got her doctorate before joining NASA to fly into space on missions with other astronauts like Sally Ride, who also flew aboard Challenger.
Written by: Swati Rath