Here’s a run-through of the trailblazing women who achieved major firsts in space.
First Woman in Space
The first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, blazed a trail for the many female spaceflyers who would follow. Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, was selected from more than 400 applicants to launch on the Vostok 6 mission June 16, 1963.
First American Woman in Space
In June 1983, NASA astronaut Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in space when she launched on the STS-7 mission of the space shuttle Challenger. She was the third woman in space, after Valentina Tereshkova and Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who flew on the Soyuz T-7 mission August 19, 1982.
First Female Space Station Commander
NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station when she took the helm of the outpost in April 2008 during Expedition 16. On her next spaceflight in 2016, she became the first woman to command the space station twice when she took command of Expedition 51. She holds the record for being the oldest woman in space, having returned from her final mission at the age of 57. [In Photos: Record-Breaking NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson
First Female Spacewalker
The first woman to complete a spacewalk, or extravehicular activity (EVA), was Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya, who spacewalked during her second flight to orbit in July 1984. She also became the second woman to fly to space in 1982 with the Soyuz T-5 mission to the Salyut 7 space station.
First U.S. Female Spacewalker
NASA astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first American woman to do a spacewalk when she floated outside the space shuttle Challenger during mission STS-41-G on Oct. 11, 1984.
First All Female Spacewalk
NASA astronauts Christina Koch (left) and Jessica Meir test their spacesuits for their historic Oct. 18, 2019 spacewalk.
(Image credit: NASA)
Jessica Meir (at top left, with back to camera) and Christina Koch begin the first all-female spacewalk outside the Quest airlock of the International Space Station on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019.
(Image credit: NASA TV)
NASA astronauts Christina Koch (right) and Jessica Meir pose for a photograph while testing their spacesuits for a historic Oct. 18, 2019 spacewalk.
(Image credit: NASA)
On Oct. 18, 2019, two NASA astronauts made space history with the world’s first all-female spacewalk.
NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir went outside the International Space Station on an unplanned repair spacewalk to fix a fault battery component. Koch, a spacewalk veteran, led the EVA while Meir performed her first spacewalk.
Koch and Meir were part of the Expedition 61 crew, with Koch also flying the first nearly yearlong space mission by a woman.
First Briton in Space
British chemist and private citizen Helen Sharman became the first British person to fly in space when she visited the Mir space station aboard the Soyuz TM-12 in 1991. During this flight, she also became the first woman to visit the Mir space station.
First African American Woman in Space
NASA astronaut Mae Jemison flew on space shuttle Endeavour in September 1992, becoming the first African-American woman to travel to space.
First Canadian Woman in Space
Roberta Bondar became Canada’s first female astronaut when she flew on the STS-42 space shuttle mission in 1992. [Canada’s First Woman in Space, Astronaut Roberta Bondar, Honored with Coin]
First Japanese Woman in Space
The first Japanese woman in space was Chiaki Mukai, representing the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA). Mukai flew on the space shuttle Columbia during mission STS-65 in July 1994. At the time, she set the record for the longest flight to date by a female astronaut.
First French Woman in Space
Doctor Claudie Haigneré became the first and only French woman to travel to space when she flew to the Russian space station Mir in 1996. In 2001, she became the first European woman to visit the International Space Station.
First Female Space Shuttle Commander
NASA astronaut Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a space shuttle mission, a role that required an astronaut to have at least 1,000 hours of experience piloting jet aircraft. Collins commanded the STS-93 space shuttle mission in July 1999, and went on to command a second time in July 2005.