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June Good Month for "First" Women Astronauts

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 18-Jun-2012
Updated: 18-Jun-2012 01:04 PM

Purely by coincidence, the first women to fly into space representing their countries -- the Soviet Union, United States and China -- were all launched in June.

Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963.  Her solo flight on Vostok 6 lasted 70 hours and 50 minutes. 

U.S. astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983.  She was part of the five-person STS-7 space shuttle Challenger crew.  The mission lasted 146 hours and 24 minutes.

Chinese astronaut Liu Yang became the first Chinese women in space on June 16, 2012.  Liu's mission, still in progress, is expected to last 13 days.  She is one of the three-person Shenzhou-9 crew that today performed the first crewed docking with China's first space station, Tiangong-1. 

Women of other nationalities have also flown in space, but Tereshkova, Ride and Liu are notable because they flew on spacecraft built and launched by their own countries.  The other "first" women astronauts flew on Soviet/Russian or U.S. spacecraft -- and not in June!   For the record, they were:

  • Helen Sharman, first British woman in space and first woman "space tourist" (Soviet Soyuz TM12/TM22, launched May 19, 1991)
  • Roberta Bondar, first Canadian woman in space (U.S. space shuttle STS-42, launched Jan. 22, 1992)
  • Chiaki Mukai, first Japanese woman in space (U.S. space shuttle STS-65, launched July 8, 1994)
  • Claudie Haignere, first French woman in space (Russian Soyuz TM-24/TM-23, launched August 17, 1996)
  • Yi So-Yeon, first South Korean woman in space (Russian Soyuz TMA-12 mission, launched April 8, 2008)

Some might also include Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-American NASA astronaut as the first Indian woman in space (1997), or Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American space tourist as the first Iranian woman in space (2006), but since they both were American citizens when they made their spaceflights, we do not include them here.  Some lists identify Ansari as the first woman space tourist, but Sharman earned that distinction 15 years earlier.

Other notable women space firsts:

  • Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, first woman to walk in space (1984)
  • U.S. astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, first American woman to walk in space (1984)
  • U.S. astronaut Eileen Collins, first woman to command a space shuttle mission (1999)
  • U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, first woman to command the International Space Station (2008)

On a sad note, the first women to die as a result of a spaceflight were NASA astronaut Judy Resnik and "teacher-in-space" Christa McAuliffe, both of whom died in the January 28, 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy.  Two more women astronauts died in the February 1, 2003 space shuttle Columbia tragedy, Kalpana Chawla, mentioned above, and Laurel Clark. 

 

 


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