Moutmout's blog

Astronomy, computers, random thoughts

The peculiar adventure of the first woman in space

Of the importance of diverse teams

2-Minute Read

Sally Ride in the Space Shuttle. NASA.

In 1963, the USSR sent Valentina Tereshkova – the first female cosmonaut – into orbit around the Earth. It was another 20 years before the United States overcame the systemic sexism that was keeping them from sending women into space.

When people started to be sent into space, NASA had a strict policy against sending women into space. Astronaut John Glenn even testified in front of Congress against making it possible for women to become astronauts. Yet an experiment in the 60’s showed that women were just as capable as men of passing the astronaut selection tests.

So back in the 60’s, there weren’t any women astronauts at all in the US. But among the engineers, there weren’t that many women either.

In 1977, NASA finally decided to start recruiting women to become astronauts and astrophysicist Sally Ride is recruited. She is 27 and starts training to travel in the Challenger space shuttle.

Meanwhile, NASA was also making preparations for the one-week trip Sally Ride was supposed to be a part of. Among other things, they planned to send tampons in the shipload (they also considered sending a makeup kit, but that idea finally was scratched). Let me remind you that there weren’t many women in the engineering team. As a result, they decided to send 100 tampons in the space shuttle for Sally Ride’s trip. One hundred tampons for a week. That is roughly equivalent to one box a day. Or one tampon every other hour. For seven days. Thankfully, the engineers did ask her if 100 was about the right number, because they didn’t know if that would be enough.

You can listen to this story in French here.

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PhD, astrophysicist. I play with keyboards and telescopes whenever I can.