Chicago Review Press adds to their “Women of Action” series with this compendium of vignettes about the remarkable women who became part of the space program. (While more than fifty women have now traveled into outer space, 23 are profiled in-depth in this book.)
There are many interesting anecdotes in this book, such as the fact that the television series “Star Trek” was originally envisioned by Gene Roddenberry as having a female captain, but sponsors refused to sign on unless the captain was a man. Roddenberry acceded to their demands, and the Enterprise was commanded by William Shatner as James T. Kirk.
Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura on “Star Trek,” was tempted to leave the show after one year to pursue a Broadway career. She reported that a conversation with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., changed her mind. He urged her to stay, telling her she was providing a vital role model for black children and young women across the country. When “Star Trek” was cancelled, Nichols went around to high schools and colleges to encourage women and minorities to apply to be astronauts. It was she who recruited Guion Bluford, Jr., who became the first African American in space. Mae Jemison also said that Nichols influenced her desire to be an astronaut.
Mae Jemison, the first African American female astronaut, loved astronomy and science fiction stories as a girl. But when she told her kindergarten teacher she wanted to be a scientist, her teacher said, “You mean a nurse.” Somehow, in spite of all the discouragement, Jemison persevered, starting Stanford at just age 16 in the chemical engineering department. She went on to Cornell Medical School, the Peace Corps, and graduate studies in engineering courses before applying successfully to the astronaut program in 1987.
Barbara Morgan’s story would make anyone think twice about a career in space. First, she was chosen as an alternate for Christa McAuliffe to be the first teacher in space. Christa McAuliffe was part of the flight that blew up when the space shuttle Challenger exploded on January 28, 1986, killing all of its crew. The Teacher In Space program was discontinued, so then Barbara trained to be an astronaut and graduated her class in 1998. In 2002, she was assigned to a November, 2003 mission on the Columbia shuttle, but it exploded on reentry on February 1, 2003, killing all crew members. You would think she would step back, but she too was persistent, and finally got safely into space and back in 2007 on the Endeavour.
At the end of each chapter, resources are provided to learn more about the woman being profiled. There are also occasional sidebars with supplementary information like listings of types of jobs in space, summaries of other NASA projects, and the effects of space on aging. A glossary and bibliography are appended.
Evaluation: It’s hard not to be inspired by the stories in this book. In spite of a huge amount of discouragement from society, these women vowed to stop at nothing to achieve their dreams.
Published by Chicago Review Press, 2014