Women on a space mission

Long before the official space age launched in 1957 with the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, women have played active roles in space exploration. Starting from the beginning of our era women have demonstrated excellence in the field of engineering, contributing their expertise to the advancement of space technology.

The earliest known female astronomer

Hypathia (born. 350–370 AD, Alexandria, Egypt), was a mathematician, astronomer, and Neo-platonic philosopher. She designed the astrolabe, an instrument historically used by navigators and astronomers to determine the time, latitude, and positions of the stars. She also taught and wrote books on math, philosophy, and astronomy. Today she remains one of the earliest known female astronomers.

The woman who discovered what the stars are made of

In 1925, Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin (UK) made a groundbreaking discovery in the field of astrophysics, unraveling a fundamental question. Her Ph.D. thesis detailed a method to decipher the intricate spectra of starlight, providing insights into the proportions of various chemical elements present in stars. Otto Struve, a renowned astronomer, later hailed Payne's work in 1960, calling it the "most brilliant Ph.D. thesis ever written in astronomy".

The woman who sent John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, to space

Katherine Johnson (USA) served as a 'human computer' (a job title for someone who performed complex mathematical calculations) at NASA, contributing to the development of computer programs for tasks she initially performed manually, such as wind gust alleviation calculations. When NASA was finally confident in the ability of its computers to complete calculations, John Glenn refused to fly the Friendship7 mission unless Johnson confirmed the computer's calculations.

The first woman in space

The first woman to journey into space was Valentina Tereshkova (USSR), in 1963. This event marked a pivotal moment in space exploration, demonstrating that women were capable of excelling in the demanding environment of space.

The first European female astronaut: France is leading the way

  • the first European female astronaut
  • the first woman who flew both aboard Mir Station and aboard the International Space Station
  • the first woman to qualify as a Soyuz Return Commander
  • the sponsor of Cite de l’Espace in Toulouse
  • Minister for Research
  • Minister for European Affairs

All this is Claudie Haigneré, a French physician, astronaut, and politician later, who became the first female European cosmonaut. Today she is probably the most known European woman in space. Her passion for space began with the astonishment of a little girl when 12 years old she witnessed historic steps on the Moon by Neil Armstrong.

Claudie Haigneré, born on May 13, 1957, in Le Creusot, France, pursued a medical degree and became a rheumatologist. In 1985, she joined the French space agency CNES, leading to her selection as a backup cosmonaut for the 1992 Soviet-French mission. In 1996, she flew aboard the Soyuz TM-24 to the Mir space station, becoming the first European woman to visit Mir. She later visited the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001.

Her achievements in the job have since been recognised with ministerial appointments in 2002 and 2004, executive roles in big companies, medals, and awards. Several French streets and schools bear her name.

She has always devoted a lot of time to outreach to young school and college students, promoting careers in Science and Engineering. She was also involved in the new selection of ESA’s astronauts and is believed to inspire more women to apply for the position.

The woman who made the longest uninterrupted spaceflight

The European astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti (Italy) set a record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight by a European woman during her mission aboard the ISS in 2015 (199 days, 16 hours). This record is now held by Christina Koch who spent 328 days on a spaceflight.

The Future:

Over the past four decades, the landscape of education and career opportunities for women in space-related fields has evolved significantly. More women are pursuing degrees and careers STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), which are crucial for space exploration. Initiatives by Association Femmes Ingenieures (France), Women in Aerospace (Europe), and Million Girls Moon Shot (USA) aim to encourage young girls to pursue STEM careers, providing mentorship and hands-on experiences, all to ensure that women keep playing a vital role in shaping the space exploration.

One article can't capture all the stellar women who've rocked the space scene. From Katherine Johnson's math magic to Valentina Tereshkova's trailblazing orbit, these women have secured their names in the history of space exploration. Their intellect and determination open the world to discoveries and will be empowering a whole new generation of young girls, to reach for the stars.