Nineteen-sixty-nine. The year is indelible on the American psyche. It's the year Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon, taking "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Millennials read about it in textbooks; their parents watched it on TV screens; the world celebrated. It would take half a century for womankind to have a milestone year like that. Although NASA has been male dominated since its inception, 2019 was the year of the female astronaut.
Last March, the world watched as astronaut Christina Koch launched into space. While she wasn’t the first or the fifth or even the 10th woman to do so, she would become a record breaker. Koch was set to conduct the first all-female spacewalk with fellow astronaut Anne McClain in the spring. But then—plot twist!—it was cancelled, due to a lack of proper spacesuit size available for McClain. The internet exploded with conversations about inclusivity in the space program.
The first all-female spacewalk eventually happened in October with Koch and her new crewmate, Jessica Meir. Once the dust settled, NASA made a bold declaration that it would put the first woman on the moon in 2024, and unveiled the new Artemis Generation spacesuit she would wear. Then, Koch beat astronaut Peggy Whitson’s record for longest spaceflight by a woman, landing back on earth after 328 days on board the International Space Station. About a month before she landed, NASA announced its newest class of astronauts—the most women a graduating class has seen since 1978. In the next 50 years, we will remember this time as one that ignited a new wave of excitement for space travel. But unlike 1969, men weren't at the center of it.
As Team Marie Claire witnessed these accomplishments, our mission became clear: to explore the past, present, and future of women in the space program. Ahead, we examine how zero gravity impacts basic everyday functions (consider how one showers without running water) and why diversity is still such an issue—of the 350 astronauts in NASA's history, just six are Black women. We highlight some of NASA's coolest jobs (like rocketship driver and voice of the moon) done right here on Earth, and why this planet actually gets so much of the agency's attention, regardless of who's in the Oval Office. We hope it gives you a little escape from the current global public health crisis, and optimism for what's to come beyond it.
Sure, we may have grown up in a man’s world, but as we've learned reporting these stories, we’re living in a woman’s universe.
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