The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts
By: Loren Grush
Published: September 12 2023
I have been interested in space since I was a child watching space launches on TV. I listened to the audiobook of ENDURANCE back in 2018 where Scott Kelly shares his unexpected journey to becoming an astronaut and chronicles his year on the ISS. It is a fascinating read. Last October, I watched the SpaceX Crew launch into space from a beach in Florida. It was quite amazing to watch knowing there were people heading to space. Even though I was just about 60 miles from the launch site, I was still shocked at how loud it was and how much I could see of the launch. I would definitely do that again.
When NASA first sent astronauts into space, women couldn’t apply. Then in the late 70s, NASA created a campaign for women encouraging them to send in their resumés. Eight thousand women applied and from that group of women, six were chosen to enter the astronaut realm: Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon. Some of these names might be more familiar than others, but all of them eventually made it into space.
Unfortunately, Judy Resnik perished in the Challenger flight in 1986, her second scheduled trip to space. Most people born in the 80s or earlier can say where they were while watching the Challenger take off. I was in my school lunchroom and remember feeling shocked and devastated. I appreciated reading the behind-the-scenes of that particular launch and what happened after. I’m not sure how I didn’t remember hearing that the crew members’ remains were found months later at the bottom of the ocean in the crew compartment. But, this bit of knowledge brought me some peace. The final chapters of this book detail this particular space launch, the reactions of the other five women astronauts, and the mistakes that were discovered during that launch.
While reading this book, I wanted to keep telling people about it because I think everyone should read it. These six women blazed a trail for women not just in space but in many other disciplines. The Six came to NASA with degrees in medicine, engineering, science, and more. But, were still considered to not be “smart enough” or “capable enough” to be astronauts. They had to be tested to make sure they could handle the rigors of space travel when in most cases, the women actually performed better than the men.
“The Six understood that as the first women, their every move was being scrutinized, more so than the performance of any of their male colleagues. They also realized that if one of them visibly messed up, critics would pounce, using the failure as evidence that women weren’t fit for space.”
Each of the six women’s journeys to space is chronicled in the book, but Sally Ride’s journey gets a bit more coverage due to her being “The Chosen One”. I hadn’t thought about the kind of notoriety Sally Ride had to deal with by being the first American woman in space. Even in the early 80s, I was shocked at how scrupulous and idiotic the paparazzi and media were. Some of their questions regarding Sally in space were appalling and incredibly disrespectful.
Loren Grush’s meticulous research, personal stories, and knowledge of NASA made this an amazing read for me. If you enjoy learning about fascinating women in history, want to learn more about space travel, or just want an enjoyable reading experience, this book is for you. If you’d like a fun book flight to pair with this book, LESSONS IN CHEMISTRY would make for a great reading experience due to the similarities of women trying to get ahead in the world of science.
Loren Grush is a reporter for Bloomberg News specializing in all things space. Previously, she was a senior science reporter for the technology news website The Verge and hosted the online show Space Craft, which took her across the country to explore what it takes to train for space. The daughter of two NASA engineers, Grush grew up surrounded by astronauts and Space Shuttles. She has also been published in The New York Times, Popular Science, and Nautilus magazine, and has appeared on several TV networks as an expert commentator. Be sure to visit her website at LorenGrush.com for more information and lots of cool space videos.