March 8th 2024
by Thomas Le Gourrierec

Women reach for the stars


Christina Hammock Koch will soon become the first woman to orbit the Moon. But others have traveled in space before her, each opening new horizons...

Sally Ride - United States

Sally Ride never had much confidence in her forehand. That's probably why this accomplished athlete, born in California in 1951, narrowly missed out on a career as a professional tennis player. Nevertheless, when she was recruited by NASA to fly on the 7th mission of the Challenger shuttle, her athletic prowess enabled her to become the first American woman in space in 1983. She went on to become a professor of physics at the University of California before heading the California Space Institute.

The astrophysicist was in a 27-year relationship with former tennis player Tam O'Shaughnessy, making her the first known LGBT astronaut.

In 2013, a year after her death, Barack Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.


Claudie Haigneré - France

On July 21, 1969, 12-year-old Claudie Haigneré was on vacation with her parents at a campsite in La Grande-Motte in southern France. They had given her permission to stay up until 3:56 a.m. to watch man's first steps on the moon. A vocation was born in this precocious student who graduated from high school at the age of 15. But before she set out to chat with the stars, she worked as a rheumatologist at the Cochin Hospital. It was there that she saw an advertisement from the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), which was looking to recruit and train astronauts.

In 1996, as part of the Franco-Russian Cassiopée mission, she boarded the Russian orbital space station Mir, becoming the first French woman in space at the age of 39.

In 2001, she took to the skies again, this time for the International Space Station. Haigneré then became Minister of Research in 2002, before moving on to European Affairs in 2004.


Valentina Terechkova - Russia

In April 1961, she had an epiphany. Just as Russia's Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, his compatriot, 26-year-old parachutist and skydiver Valentina Terechkova, felt she had what it took to become an astronaut! So she wrote to the authorities to volunteer.

At the height of the Cold War, the USSR didn't want the Americans to be the first to send a woman into space, and in 1963, the former textile factory worker became the first woman in history to fly in space. She remains the only woman to have flown a solo mission.


Mae Jemison - United States

For as long as she can remember, Mae Jemison has known she would one day reach for the stars. When the African-American was young, NASA astronauts were all white men. Born in Alabama in 1956, she first worked as a doctor in the Peace Corps, an organization dedicated to health and education in developing countries. She joined NASA in 1987. Five years later, Jemison boarded the shuttle Endeavour for the STS-47 mission to study the effects of weightlessness on the human body.

She became the first black woman to leave the Earth. This fascinating and daring personality even made a television appearance on Star Trek in 1993!