Women Who Reach Beyond the Stars A tribute to women making aviation and space history

Guest blog by Marion E. Gold
Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog

Far away there in the sunshine are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow them." Louisa May Alcott

When Louisa May Alcott said these words, she likely had no idea that women one day would not only look beyond the sunshine, but travel beyond the stars to brave new frontiers in outer space. 

In 1961 aeronautics history began a new era when 13 women reported to the Lovelace Clinic in Southeast Albuquerque, New Mexico. They were carefully selected to be the FLATS, the First Lady Astronaut Trainees - candidates for a mission to be known as Mercury 13. Their names are: Myrtle "K" Thompson Cagle, Jerrie Cobb, Jan Dietrich and her identical twin Marion Dietrich, Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk II, Jane Hart, Jean Hixson , Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Irene Leverton, Sarah Lee Gorelick Ratley, Bernice "B" Steadman, Geraldine "Gerri" Sloan Truhill, And Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman.

The program was so secret, according to an article by Funk, that not all the Mercury 13 candidates knew each other during their years of training and evaluation. It was not until 1994 when ten of the Mercury 13 met for the first time. 

Funk is a member of the "Ninety-Nines, Inc.," an international organization that was founded in 1929 by 99 licensed women pilots for the mutual support and advancement of aviation. In 1931, Amelia Earhart was elected as the first president and the group was officially named for its 99 charter members. Today, the 99s boasts more than six thousand members, all licensed women pilots, from 35 countries. Its International Headquarters is located in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

In documenting the history of the Mercury 13, Funk said that despite their outstanding test results - all passed the same tests as the Mercury 7 men-- these exceptional women never got a chance to fly into space. But their hard work paved the way 22 years later, in 1983, when Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. (http://www.ninety-nines.org/mercury.html)

Ride was not the first woman in space, however. That bold step was taken in 1963 by Valentina Tereshkova of the Soviet Union - the first woman to orbit the earth. Ride's journey to the stars was followed in July 1984, when another Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya made history as the first female spacewalker.

Ride, Tereshkova and Savitskaya have been joined by many more daring women who are committed to trailblazing their way into history - space history. 

Today, if you visit the "Women of NASA" website, there are biographies of dozens of women throughout the program: Administrators and Managers; engineers, technologists, and astrobiologists; astronauts who are mission specialists, pilots and commanders; astronomers and astrophysicists, biologists, chemists, computer scientists, system specialists and programmers; aeronautics, aerospace, biological, chemical and biomedical engineers; educators who reach out to the public; computer and design engineers; environmental specialists and geologists; pharmacologists and psychologistsŠ. The list goes on and on. (http://quest.arc.nasa.gov/women/WON.html)

This month - women's history month - we honor them. This month, and every month, we especially pay tribute to the four brave women who gave their lives in the daring quest for knowledge. Four trailblazing women who reached far beyond Louisa May Alcott's sunshine and into the heavens: 

KALPANA CHAWLA emigrated to the United States from India in 1980s and became an astronaut in 1994. In a 1998 interview with the newspaper "India Today," Chawla said: "When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system." Chawla was killed on February 1 when the space shuttle Columbia STS-107 tragically disintegrated just sixteen minutes before its scheduled landing in Florida. DR. LAUREL CLARK was a diving medical officer aboard submarines and then a flight surgeon before she reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 1996. After completing two years of training and evaluation, she was qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. She also died in the Columbia tragedy. DR. JUDITH ARLENE RESNIK was selected as a NASA astronaut in January 1978. She became the second American woman in orbit during the maiden flight of Discovery, STS-41-D, between August 30 and September 5, 1984. During this mission she helped to deploy three satellites into orbit; she was also involved in biomedical research during the mission. Resnik was a mission specialist on the Challenger (STS-51- L) which exploded just after launch from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida on January 28, 1986. SHARON CHRISTA MCAULIFFE was the first teacher to fly in space. Selected from among more than 11,000 applicants from the education profession for entrance into the astronaut ranks to be trained as a payload specialist. McAuliffe also died on January 28, 1986 when the Challenger exploded.

Their legacies live on in the hearts of all women who reach beyond the stars to follow their dreams.

Timeline of Women in Aeronautics
1910 Bessie Raiche - First woman to fly solo. She flew in an airplane her husband built of bamboo, wire and silk.
1911 Harriet Quimby - First U.S. woman to receive a pilot's license. In 1912, she also became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel.
1913 Ruth Law Bancroft- First woman to fly at night.
1914 Katherine Stinson- First woman to fly a loop (Cicero Field, Chicago, IL). In 1917, she
set flight endurance record of 9 hours and 10 minutes.
1918 Anna Low- First Chinese-American, female aviator who flew in the San Francisco, CA region.
1921 Bessie Coleman- First African-American female aviator to qualify for an international pilot's license from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.
1924 Ruth Nichols- First woman to earn an international hydroplane license.
1929 Ninety-Nines was founded by women pilots - female aviators club with Amelia Earhart as president. The name comes from the fact that out of 126 female licensed pilots, 99 of them joined.
1929 Elinor Smith-Sets solo flight endurance record of 13 hours and 16 minutes.
1929 Bobbi Trout-First woman to fly all night.
1930 Florence Klingensmith - First woman to set loop record for 143 consecutive loops.
1931 Anne Morrow Lindbergh- First woman to earn a glider pilot's license.
1932 Olive Beech- Helps to found, with her husband, Beech Aircraft Corporation. Also in
1932, Kathryn Cheung- First Chinese-American female to earn a U.S. pilot's license;
Amelia Earhart- First woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean (in just under 15 hours); and Ruth Nichols- First woman hired as a pilot for commercial passenger flights, on New York Airways.
1936 Louise Thaden, pilot and Blanche Noyes, co-pilot- First women to win the Bendix Transcontinental Air Race from Los Angeles, CA to New York City, New York.
1937 Willa Brown- First African-American woman to earn a commercial pilot's license.
1938 Hanna Reitsch German WWII test pilot who was the first woman to pilot a helicopter.
1943 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) -The government program in which female pilots were used to train the male pilots for combat duty. The U.S. female pilots also ferried airplanes across the Atlantic Ocean for use in combat.
1944 Ann Baumgartner- First U.S. woman to fly an experimental jet airplane. She reached speeds of 350 mph and altitudes up to 35,000 feet.
1947 Ann Shaw Carter- First U.S. woman licensed to fly a helicopter.
1953 Jacqueline Cochran- First woman to break the sound barrier.
1955 Whirley Girls-Female helicopter pilots start their own association.
1960 Jerrie Cobb - First woman to undergo the testing developed for the selection of the Mercury Astronauts. 
1961 Jacqueline Cochran- First woman to fly the highest to an altitude of 55,253 feet; that same year, Cochran also Established a new altitude record for the T-38 aircraft by flying 56,071 feet.
1963 Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the First Woman in Space.
1964 Jerrie Mock- First woman to fly solo around the world. She made the flight in 29 1/2 days flying 22,860 miles.
1973 Emily Howell-As second officer for Frontier Airlines, she became the first woman to fly Boeing 737 jets for a regularly scheduled airline; Bonnie Tiburzi-First female jet pilot hired by a major airline, American Airlines.
1984 Betsy Carroll-First woman to fly a jumbo jet across the Atlantic Ocean for a commercial airline (People Express).
1984 (July) Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya - First female spacewalker.
1984 (October) Kathryn Sullivan -First American Female Spacewalker.
1986 Jeana Yeager (and Dick Rutan)-First pilots to fly around the world non-stop and non-refueled. They accomplished this in a specially designed aircraft called the Voyager.
1990 British Chemist Helen Sharman flew to Mir Space Station for a week long stay after answering a newspaper advertisement. " Astronaut wanted - no experience necessary".
1990 Jean K. Tinsley-First female to fly a tilt rotor aircraft.
1992 Mae Jemison-First African American woman in space.
1995 Eileen M. Collins-First female to pilot U.S. space shuttle; 
1996 Shannon Lucid returns from six months aboard Mir, setting a space endurance record for women and a U.S. space endurance record.
1997 Kalpana Chawla -First Indian woman in outer space.
1999 Eileen Collins made history once again as the First Woman to fly as a Space Shuttle Commander.
Doris Brell a hellicopter pilot Watch her interview on The Woman's Connection YouTube Vlog