Today in 1963, at the age of 26, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to launch into space, blazing a trail for the many female space explorers who would follow.

It was 20 years after Tereshkova’s launch that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and since that time, more than 40 women have flown to orbit as NASA astronauts.

Among the milestone achievements and historic firsts there has been a woman commander, a woman pilot and even an all-woman crew. There have also been several women who lost their lives while reaching for the stars.

In honor of this most momentous anniversary, we salute these women for their boundless curiosity and courageous accomplishments.


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.


October 1984: Astronaut Kathryn Sullivan of NASA is the first American woman to walk in space.


September 1992: NASA astronaut Mae Jemison flew on space shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first black woman to travel to space.


July 1999: 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 and went on to command a second time in July 2005.


March 2001:  NASA astronaut Susan Helms was the first female member of an International Space Station crew when she served as a flight engineer during the Expedition 2 mission. It was just the second mission of the space laboratory.


June 2007: The woman who has made the longest single spaceflight is NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, who lived and worked in orbit for 195 days while serving on the International Space Station’s Expedition 15 mission.


April 2008: NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was the first woman to command the International Space Station. She commanded the station’s Expedition 16 mission while serving a six-month tour of duty in orbit. She is also credited with being the woman who has spent the most total time in space logging 376 days, 17 hours and 22 minutes in orbit.

(lead image) April 2010: Four women served together on the International Space Station, representing the highest number of women in space simultaneously. Clockwise from lower right Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, both STS-131 mission specialists; and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, Expedition 23 flight engineer; along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, STS-131 mission specialist.

In MemoriamShuttle Columbia

NASA astronauts Laurel Clark (left) and Kalpana Chawla (right) were mission specialists who died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

Shuttle Challenger
NASA astronaut and mission specialist Judith Resnik (left) and civilian mission specialist Christa McAuliffe (right), died in the Challenger disaster in 1986.