Celebrating 60 Years of Women in Space
June 16 marks the 60th anniversary of Valentina Tereshkova’s historic launch to orbit, where she became the first woman to reach space. She orbited Earth 48 times during the three-day Vostok 6 mission. Tereshkova, who was only 26 years old during her flight, was one of five female candidates selected in 1962 to train as cosmonauts. She remains the only woman to have flown a solo mission in space.
The next woman to reach space didn’t fly until almost 20 years later. Svetlana Savitskaya became the only other female cosmonaut from the Soviet Union when she traveled to the Salyut 7 space station in 1981. During her second mission to the station in 1983, she became the first woman to conduct a spacewalk.
NASA first officially selected six female astronaut candidates in 1978 as part of the agency’s astronaut class nicknamed the Thirty-Five New Guys. Sally Ride became the first American woman, and the third woman overall, to fly to space during the seventh space shuttle mission in 1983. The remaining seven women of the first 10 women were U.S. astronauts who flew on shuttle missions during the two years after Sally’s mission.
In total, 79 women have flown above the Kármán line on 165 missions. Of these women, all but seven have completed at least one orbit around the Earth. American astronauts make up 77% of female astronauts, but there have been women from 11 nations in space.
Women still represent a minority (only 12%) of astronauts who have reached the Kármán line. However, progress is still being made to diversify future space missions. In 2019, Christina Koch and Anne McClain were the first to conduct an all-female spacewalk on the International Space Station.
For more information about human spaceflight and the first women to reach space, visit our interactive dataset.