Women have been an integral part of NACA/NASA operations since 1922. They have played important roles such as mathematicians, computer scientists, astronauts, engineers, and supervisors. If you have seen Hidden Figures you know what I’m talking about. And aside from the 3 amazing African American women portrayed in the Hollywood movie: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – there have been other women we should be thankful for. Let’s take a look at them:
Kitty O’Brien Joyner was the first woman to graduate as an engineer. She joined NACA (the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which later became NASA) in 1939 and was its first female engineer.
Sally Ride always thought she would be a tennis player. Instead, she was the first American woman to be launched into space. She is one of those few cases where it’s a good thing she didn’t follow her dreams, because the world would have lost an amazing astronaut. She flew on Challenger twice, once in 1983 and again in 1984. After her time as an astronaut, she taught physics at the University of California, San Diego, wrote children’s books and founded a nonprofit called Sally Ride Science.
Judith Resnik was the first Jewish woman to travel to space. She served as a mission specialist in 1984 and tragically was one of the brave seven crew members that died when the Challenger space shuttle broke apart in what would have been her second space flight in 1986 with Christa McAuliffe, another amazing female astronaut.
Anne Lee Fisher was actually pregnant when NASA told her they wanted to send her to space. After giving birth to her daughter and completing 14 months of intense training, Fisher went into space on the shuttle Discovery in 1984 making her literally, the first mother out of this world.
Kathryn Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space. She spent over 532 hours in orbit and performed a 3.5-hour walk. I’m pretty sure that was Michael Jackson’s inspiration for his “moonwalk”.
Mae Jemison was the first African American woman in space. She served as the mission specialist on Endeavor in 1992, performing experiments in bone cell research on a week-long flight.
And last but certainly not least, Ellen Ochoa, NASA’s first Latina astronaut. She was the mission specialist on board the Discovery in 1993 and went to space three more times in 1994, 1999, and 2002.
This was just a sneak peek of all the amazing women who work at NASA. The good news is that as of 2017, 37% of new hires are female and 50% of the newest class of astronauts were women. While these numbers may sound small, this is a significant increase in female employees at NASA that we hope it keeps increasing in the years to come!