Women Who Have Made Space History

Many outstanding women have broken socially imposed barriers. As a celebration of International Women’s Day, we present five of the most extraordinary people who have been part of the history of space and astronomy. These five women are five of the many females who have changed the way we think about space and astronomy.
Portrait of Caroline Herschel

Caroline Herschel: The First Woman to Find a Comet

Caroline Herschel (Germany, 1750) made many significant contributions to astronomy at a time when women’s participation in science was minimal. She began as her brother’s assistant, and she went on to become the first women to discover a comet. However, this was not her only discovery. Herschel went on to discover seven comets and produced a catalogue of nebulae that won her the Royal Astronomical Society Gold Medal. She became the first woman to receive this prestigious award, which wasn’t awarded to another woman until 1996.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova: The First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova made space history by becoming, at age 26, the first women to travel into space. On June 16, 1963, she piloted the Vostok 6 spacecraft, completing 48 orbits around earth during her 3-day mission. During her mission, Tereshkova conducted biomedical and science experiments to learn about the effects of space on the human body and helped identify aerosols in the earth’s atmosphere. After Tereshkova’s successful mission, space travel remained exclusively male for almost 20 years.

Nancy Grace Roman

Nancy Grace Roman: Developer of the Hubble Space Telescope

Nancy Grace Roman is known as the “mother of the Hubble Space Telescope” because she helped develop the space-based observatory that has revolutionized astronomy by providing unprecedented deep and clear views of the universe. Roman established a new era of space-based astronomical instrumentation and paved the way for women at NASA to take on leadership positions at a time when women were not encouraged to pursue a career in science. She was the first Chief of Astronomy in the Office of Space Science at NASA Headquarters and the first woman to hold an executive position at NASA.

Katherine G. Johnson

Katherine G. Johnson: The Woman behind the Calculations of the Apollo Moon Landing

Katherine G. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, at the Langley Research Center in 1953, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson is a pioneer in space history because of her important role in the first steps of space exploration. Her computations were critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of NASA’s Space Shuttle program, both of which influenced every major NASA space program after that.

Samantha Cristoforetti

Samantha Cristoforetti: The longest uninterrupted flight by an ESA astronaut

Samantha Cristoforetti not only set the record for the longest uninterrupted flight by an ESA astronaut, she also broke the record for the longest space mission in history by a woman. Between November 2014 and June 2015, she spent 199 days on board the International Space Station (ISS) as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 42 and 43. Cristoforetti conducted countless experiments in the station’s laboratories during her mission on the ISS. Her expedition conducted research on genetics and biology, using ants, fruit flies, plants, and worms for international studies on the effects of spaceflight over multiple generations.

Get your OpenSpace 22 copy

Download the 22 edition of the OpenSpace publication and read about the latest news in the space engineering, cybersecurity, concurrent design, and information technology industries.