Contrary to popular belief, women entering the world of space exploration did not start with Sally Ride. In fact, the first American woman to make her mark was Geraldine (Jerrie) Cobb, who passed the tests required to enter the Mercury astronaut training program in 1959. Also, the first woman in space did not come from the United States, but another country. This article series reveals whom, as well as introduces you to a variety of female space explorers and researchers.
1959 , Jerrie Cobb , A Promise Broken
Jerrie Cobb was destined to enter the world of astronomy. She was the daughter of Lt. Col. William H. Cobb and Helena Butler Stone Cobb and was surrounded by flying during her upbringing. By the time she was 12 years old, she learned how to fly her father’s plane. When she turned 16, she earned a private pilot’s license during her time at Oklahoma City Classen High School. All of these events only fueled her passion for flying. She poured all of her time and energy into the interest alongside playing semi-professional softball. Cobb also spent a year at Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha.
Throughout the 1950s, Cobb was a commercial pilot and set several world records in her day for altitude and speed while using Aero Commander airplanes built by Oklahoma’s Aero Design and Engineering Company. In 1959, Cobb was given a glimmer of hope that she would become the first woman to reach space. NASA officials were impressed with her skills and even praised her on national television. Then, they changed their minds and her chance was taken away from her.
Cobb was eventually rejected from the astronaut corps and then made her way to the Amazonian jungles. In 1981, she was granted a Nobel Peace Prize for her work with primitive Indians living in poverty. She would spend 34 years as a missionary.
1963 , Valentina Tereshkova , An Historic First
With humble beginnings as a daughter to a peasant family in the former Soviet Union, Valentina Tereshkova was born in 1937 in what is now known as Russia. At the age of 18, Valentina took an interest in an amateur parachuting club, which she participated in her spare time as a textile mill worker. Described as a hard worker, these skills would help her to later become the first female in space.
When Tereshkova turned 24 years old, she applied to a space program with the hopes of becoming a cosmonaut. She showed interest at just the right time, as rumors swirled that the Soviet space program was looking into the prospects of sending a female into space. At this time, the Soviets were pretty fixated on becoming the ‘first’ in a variety of space endeavors with the objective of ‘beating’ the United States to the punch.
Tereshkova’s story is continued in the article titled, “Women in Space: Tereshkova and the American Six.