Here on the Space Coast we’ll soon be launching some incredible female astronauts for the first time since 2011. But before commercial spaceflight with astronauts happens later this year, learn about the fearless female space explorers on International Women’s Day.
There is a reason NASA has embraced the term crewed instead of manned when talking about human spaceflight, because since 2013 the space agency has had equal parts female and male astronaut classes.
There are more inspiring women than can fit into one article but let's meet a few, shall we?
A Virgin Galactic test pilot
Kelly Latimer is a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force and now is a test pilot for Virgin Galactic. Latimer has logged more than 6,200 hours flying 40 different aircraft, including NASA's space shuttle carrier aircraft and the agency's airborne observatory, the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, known as SOFIA.
With Virgin Galactic, Latimer will fly SpaceShipTwo -- and later this year she may be responsible for piloting the space plane with the first paying astronauts on board.
“I always had this passion to be an astronaut, just from as long as I can remember that’s what I’ve wanted to do,” Latimer said.
Watch the video below to hear why Latimer became a test pilot.
Flying spaceships is just for boys? Nope. Meet our Test Pilot, Kelly Latimer. She’s spent over 6,200 hours in the air flying more than 40 different types of aircraft. What drove her to become a test pilot? #IWD2019 pic.twitter.com/9OTUReyRbA— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) March 8, 2019
Russia’s only current woman cosmonaut
Russia flew the first two women in space, starting with Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. While Russia launched a woman into space years before the U.S. space program, only two women have flown for Roscosmos since 1984. The Russian space agency currently only has one female cosmonaut: Anna Kikina.
She is currently training in Star City, Russia, with other cosmonauts and astronauts but does not have a spaceflight planned right now. NASA astronaut Christina Koch recently bumped into Kikina during their training.
I’m not usually the type to fan girl. But when you bump into the one current woman cosmonaut and you’re both training in the same building, it’s hard not to. She was learning manual Soyuz docking and I was co-pilot training. Honored to share the same uniform as you, Анна Кикина! pic.twitter.com/ZhQ1ChZSVC— Christina H Koch (@Astro_Christina) October 19, 2018
Laura Seward Forczyk, the owner of Astralytical, a space consulting firm, told Ars Technica last September the current Russian culture isn’t supportive of women in “high-powered careers.”
Here’s hoping Kikina inspires more girls and women in Russia to apply for the next cosmonaut class, which is open to people over 35 years old with specific degrees in STEM fields.
The first African American woman to fly in space
In 1961, Alan Shepard was the first American to launch into space on Freedom 7. It would take more than three decades before an African American woman would visit space. That incredible human was Dr. Mae Jemison.
Jemison became the first black woman to visit the International Space Station in 1992. Now 62, she has continued to inspire people of color to pursue careers in science, technology, engineers and math fields with her company the Jemison Group.
Happy International Women's Day! Celebrating women around the world. Check out today's Google Doodle! https://t.co/t61TsKkC5d #WomensDay #InternationalWomensDay #strongwomen pic.twitter.com/eMG3OpnXxd— Dr. Mae Jemison (@maejemison) March 8, 2019
Friday’s Google Doodle for International Women's Day includes a quote from Jemison, “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.” According to Space.com the quote comes from Jemison's 2009 speech at the Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students.
NASA's first female astronauts to fly on Boeing's CST-Starliner
This year NASA’s commercial crew spacecraft by SpaceX and Boeing are set to launch U.S. astronauts from Cape Canaveral for the first time since 2011.
NASA announced the first nine astronauts to fly on Boeing’s CST-100 and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon last August, including veteran astronaut Suni Williams and NASA astronaut Nicole Aunapu Mann.
Williams has made two trips to the International Space Station totaling 322 days flying on both the Space Shuttle and Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
When others said you couldn't, you said "We can do it!" 💪— Boeing Space (@BoeingSpace) March 8, 2019
To the pioneers of space, our #Starliner teammates and @Commercial_Crew astronauts @AstroDuke and @Astro_Suni, thank you for building the future and daring to explore. #InternationalWomensDay #BalanceForBetter pic.twitter.com/PoCMim9GJJ
With more than 3,000 flight hours in over 30 different aircraft, Williams served in the U.S. Navy flying helicopters on relief and combat missions. Later, she became a test pilot and instructor. Williams was deployed when she was selected to be a NASA astronaut in 1998.
Williams told News 6 last August the gender of an astronaut or pilot shouldn't matter.
"When I was a helicopter pilot, when I did my first spacewalk, when I was living on the space station ... the helicopter doesn't know if I'm a girl or a boy," Williams said. "The space station doesn't know, the spacesuit doesn't know. So why should it really matter, right?"
The first crewed test flight of Boeing's Starliner will be Mann's first trip to space. If an uncrewed flight slated for no earlier than April goes well that launch will happen in late summer.
Mann earned the nickname “Duke” as a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. She served on combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and as a test pilot for the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet. Mann was selected as part of the 2013 NASA astronaut class -- the first class to be equal parts men and women.
She told News 6 last August after her assignment on the Boeing Starliner she hopes the return to human spaceflight in the U.S. will empower the next generation of space explorers.
"Hopefully, it motivates them to study hard in school and think about what they want to do and think about how they want to contribute to this mission to exploring space," Mann said.
The first all-women spacewalking team
Astronauts working on the International Space Station have completed 213 spacewalks since 1998. However, on March 29 NASA astronauts Christina Koch and Anne McClain will become the first women to conduct a spacewalk without any men.
Canadian Space Agency flight controller Kristen Facciol announced on Twitter March 1 she will be on console while McClain and Koch conduct the first all-female spacewalk.
As a young girl, @Astro_Christina dreamed of going to space. Next week, that dream becomes a reality when she launches to the @Space_Station! Learn more about Christina & the other members of the Expedition 59 crew. https://t.co/0B48RUOxos #InternationalWomensDay #IEW2019 pic.twitter.com/ZdewH4cRQu— NASA STEM Engagement (@NASASTEM) March 8, 2019
McClain has been working on the space station since December and will conduct another spacewalk with NASA astronaut Nick Hague on March 22, according to NASA.
Koch and Hague launch for the space station March 14.