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Women in spaaaaaaace!

[Image above] Dava Newman in her Biosuit--a sleek spacesuit that relies on mechanical counter-pressure instead of using gas pressurization--on Henry Moore's sculpture 'Reclining Figure' on the MIT campus. Photo / Donna Coveney

Today is the 40th anniversary of the lunar landing and to celebrate this glorious feat of scientific and human advancement here are some female astronauts who helped us achieve our goals in space exploration.

Valentina Tereshkov was a Soviet cosmonaut and the first woman in space. She launched on June 16, 1963 on Vostok 6. Her duties in space were to perform tests on herself and collect data about the effects of space on the female body.

Cool Fact:  before becoming a cosmonaut, she was a textile-factory assembly worker

Jerrie Cobb was selected as NASA’s first woman astronaut in 1959. Unfortunately, Jerrie didn’t get a ride into space. Though she was in the top 5% of astronauts (male and female) and passed every examination, NASA’s policies at that time kept women out of space. Jerrie lost the fight for women to fly at that time, but remains today an inspiration to all women interested in flight and has been honored with numerous awards for her professional and humanitarian in the Amazons.

Cool Fact: Jerrie still wants a ride into space and you can support her and find out more about her at the Jerrie-Cobb Foundation website.

Finally, on June 28, 1983, Sally K. Ride, became America’s first female astronaut to make it to space. We were a bit behind the Russians on this one, but Sally makes up for it. “Sally was the Capsule Communicator for the second and third Space Shuttle flights and helped develop the Space Shuttle's robot arm.” She now runs Sally Ride Science, an innovative company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology. Go Sally go!

Cool Fact: She got the job after answering an advertisement in the newspaper for the space program.

Peggy Annette Whitson, a Research Biochemist, was the first female space station commander. She has flown two missions, the first was on Expedition 5; which took off on June 5, 2002 and the second was Expedition 16 on October 7. 2007. So far, Whitson holds the the woman with the most accumulated hours in space.

Some other groundbreakers and firsts:

Kathryn Sullivan was the first American woman to perform a spacewalk.

Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, first African-American woman in space.

Ellen Ochoa, first Hispanic American woman in space.

Chiaki Mukai, is the first female Japanese astronaut.

Eileen M. Collins was the first woman to pilot an American space shuttle.

Yi So-yeon just recently became the first Korean in space on April 8, 2008.

Finally, lets not forget the four women who lost their lives in hopes of learning more about the galactic frontier.

Dr Kalpana Chawla, Engineer. Perished in Columbia shuttle disintegration during re-entry.
Laurel Blair Salton Clark. Physician. Perished in Columbia shuttle disintegration during re-entry.
Sharon Christa Corrigan McAuliffe. Was to have been the first teacher in space. Died in Challenger accident.
Dr Judith Arlene Resnik. Engineer. Died in Challenger accident.

Sources: Women of Space, Wikipedia, NPR, About.com