They debunked the myth that being an astronaut is not a woman’s job: The first woman in space

25th Oct 2022
They debunked the myth that being an astronaut is not a woman’s job: The first woman in space

The first astronauts were recruited from fighter pilots. For many years, this prerequisite limited women’s access to participation in space programs. However, of the 600 people who have been in space to date, 71 were women. Who are these ladies debunking the myth that being an astronaut is not a woman’s job? In this article, we look at who was the first female astronaut, the first woman in space, and which countries can be proud of their lady heroes.

First female astronaut

Jerry Cobb
Jerry Cobb in a wind tunnel

The first female astronaut in the world could have been Geraldine M ‘Jerrie’ Cobb. In 1961, this American pilot from Oklahoma organized an unofficial feminist project called Mercury 13. It had no connection to NASA, but it brought together female pilots who wanted to become astronauts and carry out space flights. She got help from doctor Randolph Lovelace, the director of the clinic where the Mercury 7 astronauts were examined, and Jacqueline Cochran, a world-famous woman pilot who broke the sound barrier.

Jerrie Cobb selected a group of highly trained female pilots, whom she named Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees — FLATs. Of these, 13 had passed Phase 1 tests and were ready to proceed with the remaining two, but NASA cancelled further tests, categorically citing that only men could endure space flight.  Jerrie Cobb, the only one who managed to go through all three phases, suffered the strongest emotional blow from the termination of the Mercury 13 program.   For her, space flight remained an unattainable dream. In 2018, Netflix produced a documentary about Cobb and Mercury 13.

Mercury 13 documentary

When was the first female astronaut in space?

first female astronaut Valentina Tereshkova
First female astronaut, who went to space – Valentina Tereshkova

Once they found out about the Mercury 13 group, the Soviet Space Program leaders decided to outperform the USA by sending a Soviet woman into space. The main thesis was: “We cannot allow the first woman in space to be an American. That would be an insult to the patriotic feelings of Soviet women.”

26-year-old Valentina Tereshkova, who, according to legend, was greatly inspired by the flight of Yuri Gagarin, was chosen for the role of the first soviet female astronaut in space. Although she had no piloting experience, she was accepted into the program because of her 126 parachute jumps. At the time, Soviet astronauts were expected to parachute out of their capsules seconds before they landed when returning to Earth. Together with four other women, Tereshkova underwent 18 months of training, after which she was appointed pilot of the Vostok-6 spacecraft.

On June 16, 1963, Vostok 6 was successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Tereshkova spent over 70 hours in space and made 48 orbits around the Earth. Soviet and European viewers could see her smiling face and the logbook floating in front of her. Tereshkova never flew into space again. She became a test pilot and instructor, received a doctorate in engineering, and later became a doctor and politician.

Who was the first female NASA astronaut?

first female NASA astronaut Sally Ride
First NASA female astronaut Sally Ride

In the 1970s, laws were passed in the United States prohibiting sex discrimination in career choices. So, in 1977, NASA started to encourage women and people from US minorities to apply for astronaut training programs. So out of almost 9,000 applications, 35 candidates were selected, including six women.

The first female American astronaut to go into space was 32-year-old Sally Ride. She held a PhD in astrophysics. In 1983, she was included in the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger STS 7 as a flight specialist. And in 1984, she took part in the STS 41-G mission. In total, during her career as an astronaut, Sally Ride spent over 340 hours in space, became the first woman to use a manipulator in space, and also the first astronaut to use a manipulator for satellite return. For her services, she was included in the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

In 2012, Sally Ride died at her home in San Diego at the age of 62 from pancreatic cancer. US President Barack Obama, expressing condolences on her death, called Ride a national hero who inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars. Since Sally Ride, 54 more American women have flown into space, setting the top record by country.

First woman to walk in space

In 1984, the USSR overtook the US in the space race for the last time, sending the first female astronaut into outer space. She was 35-year-old Svetlana Savitskaya, and this was her second space flight. On July 17, 1984, the Soyuz TM 12 spaceship launched from Baikonur carrying three cosmonauts on board: flight engineer Savitskaya, crew commander Vladimir Dzhanibekov and researcher Igor Volk. The next day, the Soyuz T-12 docked with the Salyut-7 orbital station.

On July 25, 1984, at 18:55 Moscow time, the hatch of the space station opened, and Savitskaya, together with Dzhanibekov, went into outer space. Outside the spacecraft, the astronauts tested a universal handheld welding torch. Savitskaya stayed outside the spacecraft for 3 hours and 35 minutes. All who watched her were delighted with her self-control and the stamina with which she performed all the tasks.

In 1986, Savitskaya was supposed to be sent into space as a first Russian female astronaut commander of a fully female crew, but this flight never took place.

Who was the first black female astronaut?

Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison – the first black female astronaut

In 1987, 2,000 people applied to join NASA’s group of 12 astronauts. 15 people were selected, including Mae Jemison, M.D., who was the first African American female astronaut. After two years of training, she was included in STS-47, a joint mission with the Japanese space agency, in preparation for which she conducted many biological experiments. Jamison’s dream of space travel came true on September 12, 1992, when the Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off on the STS-47 mission.

Jemison spent eight days in space, making 127 orbits around the Earth. She didn’t fly again. But in 1993, she became the first real astronaut to act in films. Actor LeVar Burton, who played Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation, found out that Jamison was a fan of the show and invited her to the set. She made a cameo appearance in the episode “Second Chance” as Lieutenant Palmer.

First British woman in space

Helen Sharman
Helen Sharman – the first British female astronaut

The UK can be rightfully proud of having become the third country in the world to have a female citizen in space. It was Helen Sharman in May 18, 1991, and we have a separate article about Sharman on our site. If you haven’t read the story of the first UK female astronaut yet, do it now.

Who is the first Indian woman in space?

The first woman from India in space was Kalpana Chawla from Punjab. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab College in 1982, Chawla moved from India to the United States, where she continued to improve her knowledge of aerospace engineering. She received a master’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1984 and a PhD from the University of Colorado in 1988. In 1994, Chawla became NASA’s first female Indian astronaut.

She flew into space twice on Space Shuttle missions, namely STS 87 and STS 107. Unfortunately, the second flight was fatal. On February 1, 2003, Chawla and the entire crew of the space shuttle Columbia were tragically killed in a fire while landing. Chawla became the second female astronaut whose life was tragically cut short in a space flight. The first was Judith Resnik, who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986. Kalpana Chawla’s remains were cremated in India. She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the Cygnus CRS NG-14 spacecraft was named in her honour.

first Indian female astronaut - Kalpana Chawla
Kalpana Chawla – first Indian female astronaut


In addition to female astronauts from the above countries, there have also been women from Canada, France, Italy, Asian countries, and even the United Arab Emirates. Each made a significant contribution to astronautics, and some of them continue to keep watch on the ISS to this day. The only question still unanswered is who was the first female on the Moon? So far, 12 astronauts have landed on the Moon, but all of them were men. The new Artemis lunar mission is about to change this. And by 2030, we should probably discover the name of the first woman in space to end this disbalance.

And in the meantime, let’s recall the names of those women who became the first astronauts in their respective countries.

10 first women in space (by countries, in chronological order)


First female astronaut name

Launch Date

Mission Details



Valentina Tereshkova

June 16, 1963

Vostok 6

First woman in space.

Youngest woman in space (aged 26).

Only woman to make a solo spaceflight.



Sally Ride

Jun. 18, 1983


Third woman in space.

Youngest American woman in space (aged 32).


 Great Britain

Helen Sharman

 May 18, 1991

Soyuz TM 12

Second woman to fly on a space station (Mir)



Roberta Bondar

Jan. 22, 1992

First Ukrainian Canadian woman in space



Chiaki Mukai

Jul. 8, 1994


First Asian woman in space



Claudie Haigneré

Aug. 17, 1996

Soyuz TM-24/TM-23



Anousheh Ansari

Sep. 18, 2006

Soyuz TMA-9/8

Fourth space tourist and first female space tourist

First Muslim woman in space


 South Korea

Yi So-yeon

Apr. 8, 2008

Soyuz TMA-12



Liu Yang

Jun. 16, 2012

Shenzhou 9



Samantha Cristoforetti

Nov. 23, 2014

First Italian woman on ISS. Expedition 42/43.

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