Being a life-long science fiction nut and borderline Trekkie, I’ve decided to embrace this month’s space theme in all its nerdy, nerdy glory and share some of my favourite space-themed fiction and nonfiction titles.
I’m going to kick things off with a real bang with Women In Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures.
Want to meet 23 kick-ass women who broke glass ceilings and paved the way for generations of young women to follow? You got it! The women whose stories are covered in this fascinating collection come from different decades, countries, cultures and professional backgrounds, making for a fascinatingly diverse account of female space accomplishment.
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to enter orbit, all the way back in 1963. When Tereshkova rocketed into space, the news was received, well, just as you might expect it to have been received in 1963 (or in 2016, if you watched some of the more objectionable Olympics coverage…):
Life magazine proclaimed, “She Orbits Over the Sex Barrier” and, in smaller type above that title, “a blue-eyed blonde with a new hairdo stars in a Russian space spectacular.” A Texas paper had the headline, “Russian Blonde Spins around the Earth Toward Possible Rendezvous,” a play on the fact that Tereshkova was to communicate from space with another capsule piloted by Valery Bykovsky. A prominent American newspaper described her as “a pleasant-looking, gray-eyed, athletic young woman with wavy, dark blond hair.” Bykovsky’s hair color, occasionally described as “dark,” does not appear to have been of quite as much interest.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev told Valya, as he called her, that he felt “a fatherly pride that it is our girl, a girl from the land of the Soviets, who is the first in space.” Which would make her the first spacegirl, to be taken somewhat less seriously than a man. But he also said, “Now you see what women are capable of.” – LA Times
Sally Ride would become the first American woman in space in 1983 – TWENTY YEARS AFTER TERESHKOVA. It seriously took until the NINETEEN EIGHTIES for the United States to finally get around to sending a woman into space. The mind, it truly boggles.
Women in Space introduces readers to astronauts from ten different countries, including Japan, Canada (Roberta Bondar!!), South Korea, France, and the former Soviet Union. We meet Mae Jemison, the first African-American female in space, and Eileen Collins, the first woman to command a space shuttle. These women battled sexism and in some cases racism to beat the odds stacked against them and achieve their dreams of scientific exploration and discovery, and in so doing became inspirations for future generations.
Stories like those of Tereshkova, Ride and their fellow astronauts are likely to inspire, excite and amaze young readers. But they should also serve as a warning, a reminder to not grow complacent or rest on our laurels. The rights, freedoms and opportunities that girls and young women enjoy today were won largely through the struggles, and sacrifices of the women who came before. Female pioneers across industries had to prove themselves again and again simply to achieve the same level of success as their male counterparts. We’ve come a long way since the days of Tereshkova, and we can rightly take pride in what we’ve accomplished as a society, but there’s still a long way to go before all young people will be able to achieve their goals and dreams. Let’s let these women inspire us as we move ever upward and onward.
Filled with fascinating information, fun facts and inspiring stories, Women in Space is definitely a title to add to your nonfiction collection.