Category Archives: Interviews

Space Related Interviews

Preview: Andy Weir’s ‘The Martian’

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J.D. TAYLOR
JULY 30TH, 2015

It is the movie many space tech enthusiasts have been waiting for: a big-screen adaptation of Andy Weir’s book “The Martian”. Directed by Ridley Scott, the movie, like the book, promises to be a technically-accurate, action-packed story of human ingenuity and endurance on Mars. Originally set for a November 25 release, it has been moved up to October 2.

So you thought Tom Hanks had it rough surviving on an uninhabited island in “Cast Away”? Try being left for dead on Mars, stranded on a barely habitable planet with a handful of potatoes and no hope for rescue within the next four years. That’s what happens to astronaut Mark Watney, played by Matt Damon, during one of the first human expeditions to the Red Planet.

Matt Damon as astronaut Mark Watney walks across the dusty plains of the Red Planet in 20th Century Fox’s The Martian. Image Credit: 20th Century Fox.

Watney is presumed dead when the rest of his crew is forced to evacuate during a fierce dust storm. Left with no communications and little air, water or food, Watney’s slim-to-nothing chance for rescue will require that he engineer a 1,864 mile (3,000 km) trek across the planet for a potential rendezvous with the next crewed mission.

Weir’s book has been praised for its realism, but there has been some disagreement as to whether the storms on Mars would carry so much destructive force in such a thin atmosphere, but it does set the stage for the rest of the story.

In fact, when SpaceFlight Insider and USA in Space asked Weir if he would change anything in the movie, he told us, “Yeah, I’d replace the sandstorm at the beginning with an engine test failure. A real Martian sandstorm can’t cause damage like what’s shown in the story.”

“Mostly, my job was just to cash the check,” Weir said when he was asked if had been involved with the movie’s development. “Though they did send me the screenplay to get my opinion. They are not required to listen to anything I have to say. They keep me updated on the production because they’re cool.”

Like the book, the movie promises to portray a technically accurate image of NASA’s future human missions to the Red Planet. The film places its protagonist in the same position as the crew in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 or Ryan Stone in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity.

To add to its credibility, NASA played a major role as advisors to the movie. Dr. James Green, NASA’s Director of Planetary Science, told SpaceFlight Insider how this collaboration came about. “Late May of last year, 20th Century Fox contacted NASA and asked them to look at the script and asked if they could provide advisors,” Green said. “The Martian is such a great book, from a number of aspects. NASA said, sure, we would be glad to help you. What do you need?”

According to Green, Ridley Scott really wanted to understand NASA’s concepts and concerns for the exploration of Mars. Dr. Green, with permission from NASA’s Public Affairs Office, was able to organize tours to give the filmmakers what they were looking for. He arranged a visit to Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Texas for Arthur Max, the movie’s Production Designer.

The spacecraft that is used to send Watney to Mars bears a strong resemblance to the International Space Station currently on orbit. Image Credit: 20th Century Fox

“I had him meet the top Mars human system designer, some of the NASA biologists that are into farming on Mars, and we took him through the habs (habitats),” said Green. “We talked about NASA’s approach to living on Mars and what the habs would look like on Mars. We have some mockups of those. Showed him some of the (Mars) touring vehicles […]. It was a very stimulating, free-flowing conversation, for a full day.”

Green said NASA has been thinking hard about human missions to Mars for the past couple of decades, having reached a full half-century of robotic operations there. “We have been all over Mars for quite a while,” he said. What we’re learning about the planet with unmanned missions is crucial for enabling future human exploration.

Weir visited NASA’s Johnson Space Center during the production of the adaptation. Photo Credit: Andy Weir

Both the novel and the space agency itself were speaking the same language in terms of the use of what is known and what is available in terms of exploring the Red Planet.

“So what I really liked about the book is that it leveraged a number of the same ideas that we have been perusing. It talked about the habitats on Mars; it talked about resources that are on Mars. It talked about exploration, that humans have a variety of tools and capabilities, they have rovers that can get them around,” Green said.

In The Martian, the spacecraft that is used to send the crew to Mars uses ion engines for transit between Earth and Mars, a technology NASA is now using extensively for robotic exploration.

Mars is similar to Earth in many ways, it has unbelievable vistas, enormous vistas and is the likely next step for humans in our migration beyond Earth. The movie gives NASA an opportunity to say, yes, Mars is like that, it has challenges, and beauty. It allows us to begin national and international dialog about going to Mars, and what we’re really doing in comparison to the movie.

“Here’s what the movie will do,” said Green. “I predict the movie will be tremendously popular. It will be popular because it is more realistic than any other Mars movie I have seen and it does not involve lasers, fast spacecraft, aliens, and dangerous robots that try to kill people or any of that, and yet tension and excitement will be just as high as any previous movies done about Mars. That is because it is all about honest exploration, taking a risk, stepping out.”

Video courtesy of 20th Century Fox

This article was originally written by USA in Space for SpaceFlight Insider and was edited and published by SpaceFlight Insider.  It is republished here with their permission.

Women In Space: Dr. Anna Fisher, One Of The ‘Original Six’

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Fisher in front of a rack of spacesuits at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Photo Credit: NASA

J.D. TAYLOR
APRIL 30TH, 2015

SpaceFlight Insider and USA in Space recently had a chance to interview U.S. astronaut Dr. Anna Lee Tingle Fisher. In 1978, Dr. Fisher was in the first group of six women ever selected to be American astronauts. Prior to 1978, women were not allowed into NASA’s Astronaut Training Program. In fact, the only woman to have gone into space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who went into space in 1963.

Dr. Fisher was selected for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. She was one of six women in a group of 35, known as NASA’s Astronaut Group 8. It had been almost 10 years since the Apollo era Group 7 was selected. NASA had decided that they no longer needed just military pilots, they needed people with a high degree of academics and now they wanted to include women in the selection process. All six women selected had doctorate degrees in ‘STEM‘ (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields or in medicine. They were both highly educated and motivated.


Fisher’s official NASA portrait. Photo Credit: NASA

Dr. Fisher is a chemist, a medical doctor, specializing in emergency medicine, and is a NASA astronaut. Today, at the age of 65, Fisher is the oldest active American astronaut. During her career at NASA, she has been involved with three major programs: the Shuttle Program, the International Space Station, and NASA’s new crew-rated spacecraft – Orion.

Fisher said she knew she wanted to become an astronaut at the age of 12 when she heard the voice of Alan Shepard over the radio on his sub-orbital flight. In her dealings with NASA, she never felt any discrimination and felt that NASA was welcoming the women into the program. In fact, she said that she felt more negative attitudes in college against her becoming a doctor than she did by NASA in becoming an astronaut.

Once she was accepted into the program, she knew there was a spotlight on all of them. They all knew, that from this group, the first American woman astronaut would be selected. Dr. Fisher said it did not matter to the group, who was selected to be the first American woman Astronaut. Just knowing that there was going to be a first woman was more important to them than who it was. They all understood the importance of being a contributing part of the space program and to pave the way for women in the future. Dr. Sally Ride was selected and made the historic flight on STS-7 on June 18, 1983, becoming America’s first woman astronaut.

The SYNCOM IV-1 defense communications satellite is deployed out of Discovery’s payload bay during STS-51A. Photo Credit: NASA

On November 8, 1984, Dr. Fisher launched into space on the Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103). For Fisher, this was a dream come true. As a mother, this meant she was the first mother in space. She said that she most enjoyed the thrill of the launch and time spent looking out the windows at the Earth passing so fast below. One of her favorite moments in space was looking into the cargo bay of the Shuttle and seeing the two satellites they had captured from their orbits in space.

The two satellites were secured in the shuttle bay earlier in the mission. The STS-51-A mission marked the first time a shuttle deployed two communications satellites, and then retrieved from orbit two other communications satellites. The Anik D-2 and Syncom IV-1 satellite were deployed and Westar 6 and Palapa B2 satellite were retrieved. She spent 7 days, 23 hours, and 44 minutes in space and had completed 127 orbits of the Earth before landing at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

Dr. Fisher was assigned to be on the flight manifest for the launch after the next Challenger shuttle launch.

On Jan. 28, 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) (mission STS-51-L) broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, leading to the deaths of its seven crew members. The Shuttle Program was grounded until a cause and a fix could be made.

Mission patch for STS-51A. Image Credit: NASA

Two years later, on September 29, 1988, Space Shuttle Discovery lifted off, signifying a “Return to Flight”. This flight was commanded by astronaut Frederick Hauck who was also on STS-51A with Fisher, but Fisher was not part of this mission. With the birth of a second daughter, Dr. Fisher took a leave of absence to raise her kids.

She returned to NASA seven years later in 1996 and discovered that the agency she returned to, was not the one she had remembered. They were developing processes and procedures for the new International Space Station (ISS) program. Fisher became the chief of the Space Station branch and was able to use the experience of working through all of the issues that came up in the beginning of the Shuttle Program to help alleviate those same types of issues in that were coming up at the beginning of the ISS program.

Dr. Fisher continues to use her experience to contribute to the success of NASA as it starts of the Commercial Crew Program and the Orion Program. Pioneering women like Fisher helped to pave the way for many U.S. women astronauts and she continues to be an inspiration to many.

This series was originally written by USA in Space for SpaceFlight Insider and was edited and published by SpaceFlight Insider.  It is republished here with their permission.

Women In Space: Nicole Stott – More Than 100 Days On Orbit

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WOMEN IN SPACE: NICOLE STOTT – MORE THAN 100 DAYS ON ORBIT

Having flown to space twice, Nicole Stott has spent more than 100 days on orbit. She spoke with USA in Space and SpaceFlight Insider about her experiences during a recent interview. Photo Credit: NASA / JSC

J.D. TAYLOR
APRIL 29TH, 2015

We interviewed Dr. Nicole Marie Passonno Stott, an American engineer and a NASA astronaut with more than 100 days of space experience. Dr. Stott joined NASA in 1988, as an Operations Engineer in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida. In July of 2000, she was selected as a mission specialist and started astronaut candidate training in August of 2000, as part of the NASA Astronaut Group 18 training group, nicknamed “The Bugs”.

Dr. Stott is a veteran astronaut with three Shuttle flights – STS-128 (up), STS-129 (return), and STS-133 – and two Expedition long-duration missions (Expedition 20 and Expedition 21) on the International Space Station (ISS). She was the last ISS Expedition crew member to fly on a space shuttle when she returned to Earth aboard STS-129 in November 2009.

Nicole Stott credits her father for her passion for aviation. Her father loved flying and they hung out at the airport every weekend while her father worked on his latest airplane project.

Stott joined NASA in 1988 as an operations engineer at one of Kennedy Space Center’s Orbiter Processing Facility. Photo Credit: Bill Stafford / NASA

In 1988, while working at NASA, she watched candidates go through the astronaut program, but still did not see herself as an astronaut. People at NASA encouraged her to apply for the program and to her surprise, in July 2000, she was selected. She says she can’t believe that she was selected saying,
“I pinch myself every day.”

In 2006, as part of her astronaut training, Dr. Stott took part in a six-aquanaut crew mission called NEEMO 9. NEEMO is NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations. “The longest Nemo mission ever, I think. It was awesome,” she said with delight. Dr. Stott thoroughly enjoyed this underwater training experience. As part of the NEEMO 9 training mission, they spent 18 days of underwater living aboard Aquarius – an undersea laboratory stationed about 60 feet (18 m) down just off Key Largo in the Florida Keys.

Dr. Stott said, “It was the best preparation for going to space.” She further explained that once you are down there, you have to be very thoughtful of what you are doing, and that you can’t just open the hatch and walk out and go to the surface (without a long decompression). “You learn the dynamics of living and interacting with a crew in a confined living space.” They tested and trained on undersea “moonwalks” and robotic surgeries controlled by a doctor high and dry in Canada. Just before “splash-up” (the term for returning to the surface), Stott told fellow aquanaut Ron Garan, “You know, if we never get to fly in space, this experience would be enough.”

On 28 August 2009, Dr. Stott and her fellow crew members launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC) Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) on her first space flight as a Flight Engineer on board STS-128 (an ISS assembly flight 17A). This was a NASA Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

Stott and her STS-128 crew-mate, John “Danny” Olivas, performed a spacewalk or EVA (extravehicular activity) to prepare for the replacement of an empty ammonia tank on the station’s port truss, or backbone, by releasing its bolts. They retrieved a materials processing experiment and a European science experiment mounted outside the Columbus laboratory and stowed them in Discovery’s cargo bay for their return to Earth. The total duration of the walk was 6 hours and 39 minutes. Stott says that it was “neat” to see the station from both the outside and from the inside. She also enjoyed being inside while others were spacewalking. She loved hearing them “clanking around” as they moved along the hull of the station.

Stott lifted off on the Space Shuttle Discovery as part of the crew of STS-133. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian / SpaceFlight Insider

During the August 2009 flight, Stott and her Expedition 21 crew-mate, Jeff Williams, participated in the “First Tweetup in Space ”. It was not the instant Twitter most of us use every day; it was more of an e-mail process, a much slower and more labor intensive process. The process involved e-mailing down the tweets on whatever downlink time they had, and then it required the help of ground personnel to relay the information – tweeting it out. She returned home on Space Shuttle Atlantis (STS-129) after 90 days and 10 hours in orbit.

On February 24, 2011, Stott returned to space on STS-133 (an ISS assembly flight ULF5). It was the 133rd mission in NASA’s Shuttle program and Space Shuttle Discovery‘s 39th and final mission. During the 12 day, 19 hour mission, the Space Shuttle Discovery docked with the International Space Station. Along with other supplies and equipment, this flight carried the humanoid robot Robonaut 2 (also known as R2).

Dr. Stott said that spending so much time on the station on her prior mission, made the second mission, as a mission specialist, “a return home”. It allowed her to spend more time enjoying the view. Her fond memories of this mission included being on the flight deck during launch and landing. Being able to see out the windows made her more connected with the experience than when previously sitting at the mid-deck.

Stott was a mission specialist on the final flight of Discovery, STS-133. Photo Credit: NASA

Dr. Nicole Stott is married with a one 12 year old son, who has “a lot of attitude”. His name is Roman. She says Roman “gets it”, he understands that his Mom is out there doing cool stuff in space. Dr. Stott has participated in a number of class programs and, when speaking to her son’s class, her son would take over and tell the class what she did, sometimes, according to Mom: “… better than me!” Dr. Stott seemed to really enjoy seeing how much he understood of what his Mom was doing. So will we see Roman Stott in space someday? Maybe, if they need a veterinarian in space (his current interest). She would love to see him go into space if that is what he wants to do.

Dr.Stott hopes that the United States will “take it to the limit” with the space station and that we need to be living on the Moon someday: “[T]he Moon is like our own little personal space station, perfectly placed there for us. We should take advantage of it […], there is no reason that we should not be living underneath the surface of the Moon.” She hopes that today’s children, like Roman, will be able to experience walking on the Moon or Mars. “We need to continue our human pursuit of space.”

Dr. Stott is still on active status supporting the space station operations and working the Commercial Crew Program, and also helping out with Orion landing and recovery. As part of her work on Orion, she attended the Orion Test Launch at the Kennedy Space Center on Dec. 5, 2014, and said, “It was beautiful.”

She hopes someday to bring along the family and come to visit the Space Shuttle Discovery in its Washington area home at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia. When she does, we hope we will be able to spend more time with this very amazing woman and veteran of space flight.

Stott has so far spent more than 100 days on orbit, as part of shuttle and Expedition crews to the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA

This series was originally written by USA in Space for SpaceFlight Insider and was edited and published by SpaceFlight Insider.  It is republished here with their permission.

Women In Space: Dr. Jeanette Jo Epps And The Next Generation Of Nasa Astronauts

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NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps during an undersea spacewalk to test EVA tools on July 22, 2014. Photo Credit: NASA

J.D. TAYLOR
APRIL 28TH, 2015

As part of our series about the contribution of Women in Aerospace, SpaceFlight Insider interviewed Dr. Jeanette Jo Epps, a CIA intelligence officer and current NASA astronaut preparing for her first mission into space. Epps is uncertain when that first space mission will occur, but she is excited about it just the same.

She represents the next generation of astronauts, those who might ride NASA’s new super heavy-lift booster to orbit—and beyond. As a woman and an African-American, she demonstrates that the U.S. space program has come a long way since its beginnings in the late 1950s.

As a child, Epps did not think that she could become an astronaut, but she did have her sights set on becoming an aerospace engineer. Epps never felt that being a female or a minority has ever held her back. She relayed to SpaceFlight Insider how her mother raised her to work hard, do her best, and believe that anything is possible. Epps holds a Master of Science degree and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. It was there that she learned about research, materials and aerospace engineering. In college, she was persuaded to work in the motor craft group instead of more traditional aerospace activities. She never regretted it.

“It was one of the best things I did,” she said.

Official astronaut portrait of Jeanette Epps. Photo Credit: Robert Markowitz / NASA

That led her to work at the Ford Company as an engineer, after which she put her engineering skills to work at the CIA and started to apply to NASA as an astronaut.

Epps was selected as an astronaut candidate in June of 2009. She was one of 14 astronauts who began training in NASA’s Astronaut Group 20 (The Chumps) in August 2009, they officially graduated as astronauts on November 4, 2011.

Last year on July 21, 2014, Epps started a nine-day mission to “inner” space, under the sea, as part of NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) project, NEEMO 18. She feels that this experience is effective preparation for space travel. She spent those nine days with five other crew members, the typical approximate crew size for an ISS or deep space mission, simulating operations in space. Communication is also set on a delay, the same type of delay experienced by astronauts in space talking to Earth-based operators.

Epps explained that upon completion of the mission, the aquanauts required a 17-hour decompression in order to return to the surface, known as “splash-up”. They accomplished this by closing the lab’s hatch and changing the pressure in the lab over the 17 hours to that of the surface. Once this was complete, they returned it back to the pressure for about 60 foot under. At this point, the buildup of nitrogen in their blood had returned to normal, so they could reopen the hatch and return to the surface as if the made only a short 60 foot dive—no further decompression was needed.

This June, Epps will be going to Russia to engage in the Russian emergent program, to learn the Russian language. Epps says she doesn’t want to just learn Russian, but to become fluent in it. In the meantime, she continues to train and work.

Epps looks forward to future, in hopes that NASA will select her for an upcoming mission to space. In December 2014, she attended the launch of first flight of NASA’s new crew-rated spacecraft, Orion, on Exploration Flight Test 1.

“It was amazing to see! Very cool,” said Epps.

She pointed out that NASA should soon have two commercial spacecraft—Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Dragon—capable of sending crews to the ISS. She also feels that “the possibilities are unlimited” with these vessels and with Orion. Currently, the United States is looking at sending crews to Mars and asteroids, but Epps noted: “[Y]ou never know, the Moon may pop up as another option.”

She added: “What better place to test out the engineering than the Moon, before going to Mars?”

Epps says she competes with herself every day to keep her grades high, her training relevant and her skills sharp. She knows that she needs to be at the top of her game to be ready when NASA gives her the nod.

This series was originally written by USA in Space for SpaceFlight Insider and was edited and published by SpaceFlight Insider.  It is republished here with their permission.

Women In Space: In The Beginning…

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Although most Americans believe that Sally Ride was the first woman in space – in fact, she was not even the second. Photo Credit: NASA

J.D. TAYLOR
APRIL 27, 2015

On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the Earth. Although most Americans associate women in space with shuttle astronaut Sally Ride, the simple fact of the matter is that the first woman to travel into the blackness of space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova who roared aloft on her Vostok 6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963 – 20 years prior to Sally Ride’s first flight on Space Shuttle Challenger in June of 1983.

Sally Ride was launched on the STS-7, the seventh shuttle mission to take to the skies and became the first American woman, but not the first woman in space. Some had dismissed Tereshkova’s accomplishments because it was said that she had never taken manual control of the spacecraft during the flight. However, Tereshkova had made two attempts to bring the spacecraft into the correct attitude for a simulated re-entry engine firing, which had been scheduled during the second orbit of Vostok 6, but she had failed to do so because, at her own admission, she was not able to reach the controls; consequently, the spacecraft kept drifting from its intended path.

If the automated attitude control had failed, then failure to control the spacecraft manually could have potentially prevented it from accomplishing a deorbiting maneuver. Despite the probability of such a scenario being low, Sergei Korolev, Soviet chief rocket engineer, was reported to have been irritated; apparently, he conversed with her during the 38th orbit. Tereshkova radioed: “Don’t worry, I’ll do it all in the morning.”

Nevertheless, Tereshkova had completed 48 orbits and almost three days – 2 days, 22 hours, 50 minutes – in space, which was more than the flight-time of all the American astronauts, at the time, put together.

Tereshkova’s flight was noted by the Soviet Premier at the time, Nikita Khrushchev, as proof that women were certainly not the weaker sex. It came at a time in the West when women’s roles were beginning to change. However, despite the progress that women’s rights achieved in the sixties – it would take some time for NASA to catch up.

Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space during the Vostok 6 mission, which lifted off in June 1963. Photo Credit: Commons / Ria Novosti

Two days prior on June 14, 1963, cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky launched into space in his Vostok 5 capsule and was still orbiting the Earth when Tereshkova launched. Bykovsky returned to Earth on June 19, after 82 orbits and almost 5 days – 4 days, 23 hours, 6 minutes – in space. The two spacecraft were somewhat close at certain points in the mission – approximately three miles (5 km) separating the two.

For the United States, the first man in space was Alan Shepard, who on May 5, 1961, entered into space in his Freedom 7 spacecraft for a 15 minute, 28 second suborbital hop.

In the 1960s, NASA, like most organizations in the United States, was very much a “good old boy” organization run almost entirely by white males. Looking for the first astronauts, NASA put the word out among military pilots that they were looking for those with the “right stuff”, which, at the time, had left women out because there were no female military pilots. The rationale behind the “right stuff” attitude was the primary select-in criterion for military pilots as possible astronaut material: that they were “battle hardened” and, therefore, could be relied upon to keep a cool head under a stressful situation – hence “the right stuff”.

More than 508 service records were reviewed; 110 were found to meet the minimum requirements. This list of names included five Marines, 47 Navy men, and 58 Air Force pilots. Several Army pilots’ records had been reviewed earlier, but none was a graduate of a test pilot school – a key stipulation to be considered. Through more selection and a battery of medical tests, they narrowed it down to seven who would go on to become NASA’s first astronauts and carry out the first flights under Project Mercury – and beyond.

Dr. William Randolph “Randy” Lovelace II helped to design many of the tests used in the selection process of the first male astronauts and helped to create the profile of what was considered to be the “perfect” astronaut. Dr. Lovelace and Brig. General Donald Flickinger wondered that if they applied the same standards, would women also have the “right stuff”. They invited award-winning pilot Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb to undergo the same three-phase physical testing regimen, which had been formulated for the male astronauts, at the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

She had passed.

Jerrie Cobb stands in front of a model of a Mercury capsule. Photo Credit: NASA

So in 1960, Lovelace’s Woman in Space Program (WISP ) was started. It was a privately-funded project, sponsored by racing pilot and businesswoman Jacqueline Cochran.

Twenty-five women were selected for the program and that was narrowed down to 13. Known as the “Mercury Thirteen”, the women had participated in and had passed the very same Phase I (only Jerrie Cobb had passed all three) physical and psychological tests that were used to select the original male astronauts.

In his opinion, Lovelace stated that some of these women were, in fact, as much, if not more, qualified as the men that were selected.

So was NASA ready to take women as serious candidates for the astronaut program? “No!”, was the emphatic answer.

There were many excuses given, but some had believed that if a female astronaut were to die during a mission that the public would call for an end to the fledgling space program there and then.

It would be almost 20 years before another woman would return to space.

Despite claims by some politically-motivated individuals in the media, there never was a NASA program to even investigate the possibility of whether women could undergo the preliminary screening processes for astronaut selection. The activity was only a private one advocated by a doctor who was an independent consultant to NASA on astronaut selection.

In 1972, NASA began the Shuttle Program and finally NASA was ready to include women.

NASA set out to recruit new candidates, but found that women and ethnic minorities were not applying. Many said that they had not applied because, after more than two decades of discrimination, they did not believe that the agency really wanted them.

Star Trek’s Nichelle Nichols played a part in encouraging women and ethnic minorities to apply to become astronauts as part of NASA’s Shuttle Program. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

Therefore, in the late 1970s, NASA employed Nichelle Nichols to help recruit female and ethnic minority astronaut candidates. Nichols, an African-American woman, played a leading role on the original Star Trek television show, the part of communications officer “Uhura” aboard the starship Enterprise. It seemed like that she had the “right stuff” and would be a good recruiter – and she was.

Nichols traveled the country, speaking at universities and other educational venues. She encouraged women and ethnic minorities to apply for astronaut positions at NASA. Among those who credit Nichols for their applying to the space agency were Sally Ride and Charles Bolden – the current NASA Administrator. About 12,000 people had applied for “Astronaut Group 8”, which was whittled down to 35 people. The Group 8 would be the first astronaut group to include women (6 in total).

The Soviet Union, later Russia, looked to have had the lead in terms of equality; however, the nation has only launched a handful of female astronauts since 1963. Photo Credit: Bill Ingalls / NASA

NASA had selected all six as their first female astronaut candidates in January of 1978, allowing them to enroll in a training program that they had completed in August 1979. They all went to space and contributed, or are still contributing, to the space program today. Among these first six women included a few “firsts” in terms of space exploration:

Kathryn D. Sullivan: The first American woman to perform an Extravehicular Activity (EVA).

Anna Fisher: Flew on shuttle mission STS-51A (stay tuned for an upcoming SFI Women in Space article with Fisher).

Shannon Lucid: The first American woman to make a long-duration spaceflight and the first mother to be hired as an astronaut.

The Group 8 also included the first American active-duty astronauts to marry – Robert “Hoot” Gibson and Rhea Seddon. Of course, this group included Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

Ride was actually the third woman in space. Just a few months prior to Ride’s flight, the Soviet Union launched cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya into space on Aug. 19, 1982, on the Soyuz T-7 spacecraft. Savitskaya was also the first woman to fly to a space station (Salyut 7), the first woman to perform a spacewalk (on a later flight in July 25, 1984), and the first woman to make two spaceflights.

It looked as if the Soviet Union (now Russia) would be the leaders of equality in space, but that was not to be. Since these two women, Russia has only had two additional female cosmonauts.

Russia and the United States are not alone in including women in their space exploration efforts.

Other nationalities have also sent women to work in space; these include: China (with 2), Canada (2), United Kingdom (1), Japan (2), France (1), Republic of Korea (1), and Italy (1). The United States is currently in the lead in terms of incorporating women into its crews with 60 astronauts, and also it has more women that are in training.

Overall, women account for only about 10 percent of the overall people who went into space, but they have made a lasting impact on the roles of human space endeavors and have proven Dr. Lovelace’s assertion that women may also have the “right stuff”.

As the United States gets away from relying on Russia to provide “manned” or should we say “human” transport to space, the number of astronauts and women going into space will rise.

Today, Samantha Cristoforetti is an integral part of the Expedition 43 crew. Her presence there is viewed as nothing out of the ordinary. Photo Credit: NASA

This series was originally written by USA in Space for SpaceFlight Insider and was edited and published by SpaceFlight Insider.  It is republished here with their permission.