Five women who have been to space

Written by: Emily on April 4, 2018
Tags: Inspiration, Role Model, Women in Tech

57 years ago today, the first human space flight took place. Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet pilot and Cosmonaut, was the first man to travel beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and a total of 556 people have travelled to space since. Two years after Gagarin lifted off, the first female, Valentina Tereshkova, would take one giant leap for womankind by becoming the first woman to travel to outer space. Since Tereshkova  crossed the threshold into in space, only 60 women have been to space. Houston, I think we have a problem…


If you ask most people they can only name the famous men who went to space and would struggle to name any women. Similar to what happens if you ask somebody to name a famous woman in technology. So today, on #InternationalDayofHumanSpaceFlight, we celebrate Valentina Tereshkova and four other women who followed in her footsteps by travelling to space and giving them some much deserved air time.

Helen Sharman

Helen Sharman

At the age of 27, Helen Sharman was the first British Astronaut to travel to the space and the first woman to visit the Mir Space Centre. The chemist spent just over a week in space on Project Juno, a co-operative British-Soviet mission.

Sharman was selected live on ITV after responding to a radio advert in which it was stressed that no previous experience was necessary. To ensure Sharman was ready for space flight, she had to undergo 18 months intensive training at Star City, Russia. Since journeying to outer space, Sharman has been an advocate for STEM and in 2015 she became the Operations Manager for the Department of Chemistry at Imperial College London.

Mae C Jemison

Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison was the first African-American woman to travel to space. Jemison flew on the 50th shuttle mission in 1992 and conducted numerous experiments whilst onboard. In total Jemison spent 190 hours in space.

Some of the items that Jemison took onboard with her included a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre because of her love for dance and some art from West Africa to symbolise that space, and space travel, belonged to all nations. Jemison states that she was inspired by Martin Luther King to fulfil her dreams and by actress Nichelle Nichols who played Uhura on Star Trek, a show which Jemison would later appear on.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

At the age of 26, Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to venture beyond the Earth’s atmosphere and travel to space in 1963. Before taking flight, Tereshkova had to be inducted into the Soviet Air Force so that she could join the Cosmonaut Corps, this meant that Tereshkova was the first civilian to fly to space.

To this day Tereshkova remains the only woman to have been on a solo space mission, orbiting the Earth a total 48 times, whilst spending almost 3 days in space. It wasn’t until 19 years later that another woman would launch into outer space. When Tereshkova’s female cosmonaut group dissolved she turned to politics and began her career as a prominent politician.

Yi So-yeon

Yi So-yeon

South-Korean native, Yi So-yeon was the first Korean to fly to space in 2008. During her mission, alongside two Russian astronauts, Yi carried out a total of 18 experiments including studying how fruit flies responded to changes in gravity. On arriving back on solid ground, Yi launched the International Institute of Space Commerce and was the first astronaut to attending the International Space University at NASA.

Anousheh Ansari

Anousheh Ansari
Shortly after her 40th birthday, Ansari was the first Iranian woman to go to space in 2006. When asked what she wanted to achieve through travelling to space she said;

“I hope to inspire everyone—especially young people, women, and young girls all over the world, and in Middle Eastern countries that do not provide women with the same opportunities as men—to not give up their dreams and to pursue them… It may seem impossible to them at times. But I believe they can realize their dreams if they keep it in their hearts, nurture it, and look for opportunities and make those opportunities happen.”

Ansari was the first female and 4th space tourist, travelling to space for recreational purposes. However, during her 9 days on the International Space Station, Ansari carried out experiments for the European Space Agency.



We hope that you are just as inspired as us by these gravity-defying women. Will you be the 61st female to travel to infinity and beyond? Share your role models with us @innovateherUK.

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