The year 2019 is a seminal year for the celebration of the history of space travel: it’s the 50-year anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, which saw Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin make history as they walked the lunar surface.
Women have played an important part in space travel from its early days. In the 1950s, brilliant mathematician Katherine Johnson worked as an aerospace technologist, calculating space flight trajectories for astronauts.
From the 1960s onwards, women like Valentina Tereshkova, Sally Ride and Mae Jemison broke barriers and made history, paving the path for other females to become astronauts and go into space.
However, we know the path still isn’t straightforward for females wanting to go into space: NASA revealed as much earlier in 2019, when the first all-female spacewalk with Christina Koch and Anne McClain was cancelled – embarrassingly, it was due to a lack of proper-fitting female astronaut attire.
However, if there’s one thing women who work in space, have flown to space and who inspire the rest of us to reach beyond the stars have shown us, it’s that they persisted, breaking barriers and proving nay-sayers wrong, time and time again.
It’s also that they threw themselves into their studies with fervour, working hard to become astronauts: they were physicists and engineers and pilots and doctors – and that was before they even got into orbit.
Here are our favourite inspiring quotes from the women who made history in space travel – the women who we can thank when our daughters become physicists, engineers, pilots and astronauts.
Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space in 1983
“I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one. And I began to understand the importance of that to people. Young girls need to see role models in whatever careers they may choose, just so they can picture themselves doing those jobs someday. You can’t be what you can’t see.” - Harvard Business Review
Valentina Tereshkova, cosmonaut and the first woman to have flown in space on a solo mission in 1963
“Again the pressure pushes me in the chair, shuts my eyes. I notice the dark red tongues of the flame outside the windows. I'm trying to memorise, fix all the feelings, the peculiarities of this descending, to tell those, who will be conquering space after me."
Katherine Johnson, NASA “computer,” a mathematician whose calculations helped send astronauts to the moon
“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”
Mae Jemison, the first black woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992
“Never limit yourself because of others’ limited imagination; never limit others because of your own limited imagination.”
Ellen Ochoa, first Hispanic woman in space (1993) who was director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center
“Education is what allows you to stand out.”
Anne McClain, flight engineer for the 58th expedition to the International Space Station which ended March 2019; meant to be part of the first all-female spacewalk
“If you don’t face your fears, the only thing you’ll ever see is what’s in your comfort zone.”
Sunita Williams, NASA astronaut who held records for total spacewalks by a woman (seven) and most spacewalk time for a woman (50 hours, 40 minutes)
“Understanding how things work and being an engineer led me to become a helicopter pilot and eventually to NASA. The path doesn’t necessarily have to be straight, but don’t limit yourself to what you know. Go out and try new things.”