May 2nd is Space Day. Space Day is an educational event held on the first Friday in May, with a goal is “to promote math, science, technology and engineering education by nurturing young people’s’ enthusiasm for the wonders of the universe and inspiring them to continue the stellar work of today’s space explorers.” Appropriately, Space Day was created by the Lockheed Martin Corporation in 1997.

The story of space exploration has been dominated by men. However, there have been a number of women who have contributed significantly to the history of space exploration. And why should it not be so? As, Roberta Bondar, Canada’s first female astronaut has written, “To fly in space is to see the reality of Earth, alone. The experience changed my life and my attitude toward life itself. I am one of the lucky ones.”

In honor of Space Day, here are 10 women who forever changed the course of space exploration:

1. Hypatia of Alexandria (350/70-415)
Hypatia of Alexandria was the daughter of Theon, last known member of the Museum of Alexandria. Hypatia was born between A.D. 350 and A.D. 370; a time when Alexandria was becoming dominated by followers of the new Christian faith. She is known to have authored copies of important ancient works on geometry and number theory. In A.D. 415, she was murdered by Christians for following pagan beliefs.

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2. Caroline Herschel (1750-1848)
Sister of famous astronomer William Herschel, Caroline was instrumental in cataloging her brother’s discoveries. Two of her catalogs are still in use today. Caroline aided her brother in his telescope manufacturing business and aided him in making his many space discoveries. Between 1786 and 1797 she discovered 8 comets.


3. Maria Mitchell (1818-1889)
Maria Mitchell was America’s first prominent female astronomer. Her discoveries began early. At age 12, she helped her father calculate the position of their home through observation of a solar eclipse. She discovered her first comet in 1847. In 1865, she became the president of the newly founded Vassar College. She actively taught science at the college until a year before her death.

4. Valentina Tereshkova (b. 1937)
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space. In 1963, she orbited the Earth 48 times aboard the Soviet space capsule, Vostok VI. An avowed communist, she toured the world, promoting feminism and Soviet Science. Later in life, she was a member of the Supreme Soviet (the Soviet Parliament).

10 Women Who Changed the Course of Space Exploration-Photo2

Sally Ride

5. Sally Ride (1951-2012)
Sally Ride was America’s first female astronaut. In 1983, she went into space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as a Mission Specialist, helping to deploy satellites. In 1986, she served on the Presidential Commission investigating the Challenger disaster. Between 1989 and 2001, she was the Director of the California Space Institute at Stanford University. In 2001, she formed her own company, Sally Ride Science, to market educational programs designed to interest young girls in pursuing science careers.


6. Christa McAuliffe (1948-1986)
Christa McAuliffe was a high school teacher in Concord, New Hampshire when she won a national contest to place a teacher aboard a mission of the Space Shuttle Challenger. She was also the first private citizen to travel into space. She hoped that by travelling on the highly televised mission, she could help to interest students in science and the space program. McAuliffe was aboard when the Challenger exploded, shortly after liftoff, on January 28, 1986. However, McAuliffe’s sacrifice had a lasting legacy: a planetarium in Concord, a science center at Framingham State College in Massachusetts, and numerous schools throughout the United States, have all been named after her.

7. Ellen Ochoa (b. 1958)
In 1991, Ellen Ochoa became the world’s first Hispanic female astronaut in 1991. She is a veteran of four space shuttle flights, having logged a total of 950 hours in space. She has won numerous awards for her work in space and is currently Director of Flight Crew Operations at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.


8. Mae Jemison (b. 1956)
In 1992, Mae Jemison became the first female African-American astronaut, aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. In 1993, she accepted a teaching position at Dartmouth and is also the head of her own corporation, the Jemison Group, which researches and markets advanced technologies.

9. Eileen Collins (b. 1956)
Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle in 1995, aboard the shuttle Discovery. After participating in several shuttle missions, Collins retired from NASA in 2006. She has served as a correspondent on space missions for CNN and has received numerous awards and honors.

10. Peggy Whitson (b. 1960)
Peggy Whitson became the first female commander of the International Space Station in 2008. A veteran of long duration spaceflight, she has logged over 377 days in space. Between 2009 and 2013, she was Chief of NASA’s astronaut program, the first woman to hold that position.