Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Review of “Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures” by Karen Bush Gibson

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.)

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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 as Lieutenant Uhura

Nichelle Nichols as Lieutenant Uhura

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

Mae Jemison

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

Barbara Morgan

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.

The shuttle Challenger flight STS-51L crew members who died January 28, 1986. In the back row, from left, mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka, Teacher in Space Participant Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis and Mission specialist Judy Resnik. In the front row, from left, Pilot Mike Smith, Commander Dick Scobee, and Mission specialist Ron McNair.

The shuttle Challenger flight STS-51L crew members who died January 28, 1986. In the back row, from left, mission specialist Ellison S. Onizuka, Teacher in Space Participant Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Payload Specialist Greg Jarvis and Mission specialist Judy Resnik. In the front row, from left, Pilot Mike Smith, Commander Dick Scobee, and Mission specialist Ron McNair.

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.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Chicago Review Press, 2014

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7 Responses to Women’s History Month Notable Women Series: Review of “Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures” by Karen Bush Gibson

  1. Kadri says:

    This seems like exactly my cup of tea! 🙂

  2. sandynawrot says:

    These posts that you have been sharing with us are just SO inspirational. These women are pioneers and excellent role models.

  3. Ed says:

    Along these same lines, read Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone. It’s an amazing story about the first women trained to be astronauts. Stone is a marvelous writer.

  4. BermudaOnion says:

    It angers me that a teacher would tell a girl she wants to be a nurse rather than a scientist! I am in awe of all of these women since I am claustrophobic and the thought of being stuck in one of those little spacecrafts makes me cringe.

  5. Care says:

    I appreciate you so much for letting me know about these great books. You find and read the COOLEST stuff.

  6. trish422 says:

    The story about “you mean a nurse” reminds me of the students at my college. One of my colleagues had a young girl who was going to be a dental hygienist; when asked why she wasn’t going to be a dentist, she admitted that she had just never considered she could do it (after all men are dentists and women are dental hygienists).

    • Care says:

      I have a great story; when my niece was 1 or 2 (she’s 21 now), she received a birthday present medical doctor playset and one her grandmothers told her, “You can grow up and be a nurse!” WELL. The rest of the crowd all screamed, “NO! She will be a DOCTOR!” Not to say a nurse isn’t a great thing, but we certainly didn’t want her to thinking girls must be nurses to work in the medical fields. The poor grandma didn’t know what hit her.

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