This week marks some major anniversaries for women who have traveled from Earth and into the great beyond of space.
On June 16, 1963, the first woman to travel to space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova. She decided to volunteer for the Soviet space program after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space a few years earlier. Tereshkova trained for 18 months with five other women, but she was the only one who went into space. During her three days there, she orbited the Earth 48 times on Vostok 6.
Tereshkova's mission, though, almost ended in tragedy, but she saved the day. Vostok 6's automatic software navigation failed and might have resulted in a crash landing, but she quickly came up with an algorithm and landed safely. This information, though, remained classified for 40 years.
It was nearly 20 years before another woman made the journey into space. In the summer of 1982, cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya flew on Soyuz T-7. She later returned to space in 1984, becoming the only woman to go to space twice, and went to the Salyut 7 space station. Although her mission was a scientific one, when she arrived, a fellow male cosmonaut handed her an apron and told her to get to work. Savitskaya ignored this blatant sexism, though, and spent seven days conducting experiments on how the body reacts to space travel. During this time, Savitskaya also became the first woman to ever conduct a spacewalk.
Both of these women cosmonauts took a giant leap for womankind, setting the stage for other women in space. In 1983, U.S. astronaut Sally Ride launched with the seventh Space Shuttle mission and became the first American woman to travel to space.
In 1977, NASA conducted a national search for astronauts, and for the first time ever, the agency allowed women to apply. Ride was one of those applicants after receiving her doctorate degree in physics at Stanford. NASA accepted Ride into its program in 1978, the same year she received her doctorate in astrophysics. She completed her astronaut training a year later and then spent the next four years preparing for her first mission on the space shuttle Challenger.
On June 18, 1983, Ride made history as the first American woman in space when Challenger launched with Mission STS-7, which spent 147 hours in space. Ride returned to space the next year, again on Challenger, but this time with Mission STS-41G, which also had another woman present: Kate D. Sullivan. Sullivan became the second woman to ever conduct a spacewalk.
Ride planned on another mission in space, but tragedy struck: in 1986, the Challenger exploded on a mission that would carry the first civilian - also a woman - into space. After that, NASA grounded the space shuttle program for three years.
Regardless of the tragedy, though, Ride inspired other women to apply to space programs and since then, many have made the trip into space, including Samantha Cristoforetti, who set a record last year for the longest period of time spent in space by a woman.