In the early days of America’s space program, women were not even allowed to join the astronaut corps. Cultural shifts in the 1970s toward gender equality helped women break ground in many traditionally male-dominated fields, including the final frontier. Since then, females have been blazing trails and setting records in space and aboard the International Space Station.
First Female NASA Astronaut aboard ISS
From March to August 2001, NASA astronaut Susan Helms was the first female crew member on the ISS, participating in Expedition 2. She shares the record with fellow NASA astronaut Jim Voss for the lengthiest spacewalk of almost nine hours.
First Female ISS Commander
In 2008, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson became the first woman ISS commander on Expedition 16. She oversaw Expedition 51 in 2016 to become the first female to command the station twice and the oldest woman in space at the age of 56. Whitson holds many other spaceflight records including:
- US record for total time in space, 665 days
- Longest time for a woman on a single mission in space, 289 days
- Most spacewalks for any NASA astronaut
- Most spacewalk time for women space travelers
- First science officer aboard ISS
Second Female ISS Commander
Sunita Williams oversaw Expedition 33 in 2012, becoming the second woman to ISS commander. She is also the first person to run a marathon in space.
Most Women in Space Together
When the space shuttle Discovery visited ISS in 2010 for the STS-131 mission, a record of four women were involved. NASA astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger and Stephanie Wilson of Discovery’s crew and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki worked alongside NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, an ISS crew member.
First ISS Crew with More than One Female
On Expedition 24 in 2010, NASA astronauts Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Shannon Walker were members of the first ISS crew comprised of more than one woman.
First Hispanic Woman on ISS
NASA astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic female space traveler in 1993 and was the first Hispanic woman onboard the International Space Station in 2002. She went on to serve as the Johnson Space Center’s first Hispanic director from 2013 to 2018.
First Female Cosmonaut to Visit ISS
Cosmonaut Elena Serova was the first Russian woman aboard ISS. She visited the space lab to work with a bioscience experiment in the Russian Glavboks (Glovebox).
First European Woman to Visit ISS
Dr. Claudie Haigneré became the first European female to visit the ISS in 2001. She is the first and only French woman to have flown in space.
NASA’s First All-Female Spacewalk
In October 2019, Christina Koch and Jessica Meir stepped out of the ISS to perform an extra-vehicular activity (EVA) of replacing a failed power control unit. This was the first exclusively female spacewalk in NASA’s history. The earthbound coordinator was female astronaut Stephanie Wilson. The excursion lasted five and one-half hours.
Since 2001, women have participated in hundreds of research and technology endeavors on the International Space Station. Women are an integral part of the history and accomplishments of the ISS. Their accomplishments have truly been out of this world. (For more space info, please click here.)