You’ve probably heard that Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. I must have memorized it in middle school during my NASA phase. From Wikipedia, I can see that Sally Ride flew on STS-7, the seventh shuttle mission, in 1983. This was always treated as a piece of trivia, something without deep implications. So here’s my revised analysis:
There were no women in Apollo.
NASA launched 41 men during the Apollo missions, 24 of whom orbited the moon, and 12 of whom landed on it. Zero women. None of the alternates were women either. There were a handful of women engineers on the ground, but none in the air.
It’s not like they didn’t have time to find qualified women if they’d wanted to, as the launches were spread out over ten years. That’s enough time for a high school senior to finish college and get a Ph.D., so even if there weren’t any qualified women initially, there certainly could’ve been by the end. Apollo, in effect, had an official policy: for the position of Astronaut, women need not apply. I’m certainly not the first to notice this, but this is the first time that I’ve noticed it.
I know that our perspective on gender roles has shifted dramatically over the last two generations, but to think that 34 years ago the appropriate number of female astronauts was zero is incredible to me.
What’s even more interesting, in a way, is that Sally Ride flew on STS-7. NASA launched 16 men on Shuttle missions before launching a single woman. Even in 1983, then, gender balance must have been a total nonpriority at NASA.
Looking through the last few shuttle launches, there’s been one or two women on almost every one. Two launches have had 3 women (of 7 crew total) on board, with another (STS-131) scheduled for March 10. We’re still pretty far from balanced, but it’s getting better.
I suspect the inaugural mission for Ares/Orion will not be permitted to be single-sex.
EDIT: I guess I was sort of right. Obama just killed Ares/Orion, so there won’t be an inaugural flight at all. I wonder if the COTS rocketry is seen as sufficiently symbolic to warrant gender balancing.