Women were not initially accepted as astronauts. Not so much because of concerns about harassment, though that occur somewhat by the press of the time. It was more that there were concerns over whether they would be able to handle the isolation as well and would face worse physical difficulties. However, as soon as Valentina Tereschkova proved that she could not only handle going into space just as well but also promote it, agencies gradually began accepting and training women as astronauts. First, it took getting rid of the requirement of astronauts being military test pilots, since that wasn’t available to women for decades, either.
While Sally Ride was the first U.S. woman in space in 1983, Valentina Tereschkova of Maslinnekovo was the very first woman in space in 1963. She spent the equivalent of three Earth days circling the planet almost 50 times in a capsule called Vostok 6. It was her only trip into space. However, she later became an ambassador for Soviet science and also worked to promote Soviet politics. Svetlana Savitskaya was the second woman in space in 1982. In 1984, when she went up for the second time, she also became the first woman to perform a spacewalk. In 1983, Sally Ride made a new record for being the youngest U.S. astronaut to travel into space at the age of 32.
Then there was the tragedy of Christa McAuliffe in 1986. What made McAuliffe stand out was that she was a high school social studies teacher who was selected from over 11,000 applicants from the NASA Teacher in Space project. She planned to teach two lessons and conduct research. However, NASA unwisely launched the flight in spite of weak O-rings and the the spaceship exploded just over 70 after liftoff killing McAuliffe and everyone else on board. NASA grounded all flights for two years afterward.
New Anti-Discrimination Laws
In 1978, NASA finally accepted female applicants for astronauts. However, Ride later recalled being asked unnecessary questions about her reproductive abilities and whether she was prone to break down emotionally if something went wrong by the press.
By now, over 40 U.S. women have been in space. Today, that total is around 60 from almost 10 countries. That number is expected to continue to increase.
In fact, an article in the July 2019 issue of the National Geographic claims that women may be better suited for space flight. It argued that women actually tend to suffer from space-related physical issues less because of their smaller statures. Women’s personality traits tend to be more suited for long periods of isolation.
It is true that difficult wilderness coping studies have found that most women were able to bounce back with their original fat indexes afterward. However, whether this will be so for long space missions remains to be seen.
I agree that more women should go to space if they wish. After all, no significant differences have been found as far as physical challenges and emotional coping skills are concerned. As the fight for gender equality marches on, the number of women in space is expected to continue.