Because we need to stop forgetting about the women who made space flight possible in the first place.
This weekend was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and what better way to celebrate than by reading about historic spaceflight? Some of the preexisting lists of books on other science websites were a little lacking in women writers — this list intends to remedy that oversight.
Hidden Figures: The Untold True Story of Four African-American Women Who Helped Launch Our Nation into Space by Margot Lee Shetterly
Shetterly’s book, originally published in 2016 and now an award-winning film, is a biography of four black women who fought discrimination at NASA to make significant contributions to the Space Race. The book features three “Human Computers”, mathematicians who worked to solve problems for engineers, and the fourth woman researching supersonic flight. Despite being seen as inferior to their male colleagues, all of these women took a stand and helped make spaceflight possible. There is now a young reader’s edition of Hidden Figures as well, for kids who want to learn about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden.
Wally Funk’s Race For Space: The Extraordinary Story of a Female Aviation Pioneer by Sue Nelson
Wally Funk excelled in Mercury 13, NASA’s 1961 Women in Space program for American pilots, beating even John Glenn’s scores for physical and mental tests. But even after preparing these qualified women for spaceflight, politics and gender-based prejudice caused the program to be cancelled. But Funk nevertheless went on to be come the first female aviation instructor and make great accomplishments, which Nelson documents in this exciting biography. This book shows exactly how women have been discriminated against and kept out of spaceflight. Nelson’s book was published in September of 2018.
The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann
Ackmann’s 2004 book was the first time the story of the Mercury 13 women was told. Despite the crushing disappointment of the program’s cancellation, each of the women went on to achieve great things: “Jerrie Cobb, who began flying when she was so small she had to sit on pillows to see out of the cockpit, dedicated her life to flying solo missions to the Amazon rain forest; Wally Funk, who talked her way into the Lovelace trials, went on to become one of the first female FAA investigators; Janey Hart, mother of eight and, at age forty, the oldest astronaut candidate, had the political savvy to steer the women through congressional hearings and later helped found the National Organization for Women.”
The Space Race: The Journey to the Moon and Beyond by Sarah Cruddas
Space expert and astrophysicist Sarah Cruddas guides readers through the thrilling history of space exploration, from moon-landings to plans to what our future in space may look like. Geared toward young readers, this book will introduce children to the history of space travel and inspire them with questions about what the future – their future – in space could be. Cruddas’ book was published earlier this year.
Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt
Also published in 2016, like Hidden Figures, Holt’s book goes deeper into the elite young women of NASA’s new Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Human Computers that made satellites and space exploration possible in the first place. Holt’s book contains extensive interview with the women and takes readers through what it would have been like to be an accomplished, intelligent woman in science at the time and the discrimination they face every day in the workplace.
Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before Nasa by Amy Shira Teitel
In this 2015 book, Vintage Space‘s Amy Shira Teitel investigates the steps Germany took toward space flight just as America was learning to launch its own rocket-like aircraft. Exploring the rivalries between the countries that led to the Space Race, Teitel gives a thrilling account of everything that led up to Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon.
Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space by Libby Jackson
Published in 2018, filled with gorgeous and colorful illustrations, Jackson’s book could not be better described than it is on Harper Collins website: “a groundbreaking compendium honoring the amazing true stories of fifty inspirational women who helped fuel some of the greatest achievements in space exploration from the nineteenth century to today—including Hidden Figure’s Mary Jackson and Katherine Johnson as well as former NASA Chief Astronaut Peggy Whitson, the record-holding American biochemistry researcher who has spent the most cumulative time in space…Galaxy Girls celebrates more than four dozen extraordinary women from around the globe whose contributions have been fundamental to the story of humankind’s quest to reach the stars.”
Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures by Karen Bush Gibson
Profiling 23 women and their pioneering experiences, Gibson’s books underscores the scientific and technological accomplishments women have made despite the discrimination they experienced: “By breaking the stratospheric ceiling, these women forged a path for many female astronauts, cosmonauts, and mission specialists to follow.” Published in 2014.
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel
In this thrilling and award-winning account, explore the extraordinary discoveries and accomplishments of the women mathematicians working at the Harvard College Observatory. Sobel documents how “at the outset this group included the wives, sisters, and daughters of the resident astronomers, but soon the female corps included graduates of the new women’s colleges—Vassar, Wellesley, and Smith. As photography transformed the practice of astronomy, the ladies turned from computation to studying the stars captured nightly on glass photographic plates.” Published in 2016.
Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr
As a kid, when my dad worked for NASA and we lived near JPL in Southern California, he used to tell the story of how he met the first American woman in space. I was always mesmerized when he talked about her, imagining what it would have been like to be Sally Ride. In this biography, Sherr tells the story of how Ride made history “when NASA chose her for the seventh shuttle mission, cracking the celestial ceiling and inspiring several generations of women.” Sherr’s book was published in 2014.
For more biographies of women in space flight, including Find Where the Wind Goes by the first African-American woman in space Dr. Mae Jemison herself, check out this Bustle list!
This list was inspired by SPACE.com’s Best Space Flight and History Books, published earlier this year, and this list from Science News, which some readers felt was rather lacking in books by and about women. Taking the time to increase the visibility of women and women of color is, this writer believes, well worth the effort.