Space heroes for International Women’s Day

Annie Jump Cannon was a computer in the early 1900s at the Harvard Observatory.
Annie Jump Cannon joined the Harvard Observatory in 1896 to help build the official classification system for stars. Her calculations were largely drawn off the atmospheric refraction in telescopic photos rather than in situ observations; she and her fellow female colleagues earned about half of the men in their positions. The university didn’t designate Cannon as an astronomer until near the end of her career in 1938. Smithsonian Institution
A Google Doodle commemorated aerospace engineer Mary Golda Ross.
Mary Golda Ross led an entire life before turning her focus on the mysteries of outer space. After the mass removal of Native Americans in the 1800s, her Cherokee family resettled in Oklahoma. She then designed planes for Lockheed Aircraft Corporation during World War II—research that helped pushed her into engineering satellites and futuristic missions to Mars and Venus for NASA. Ross, who died in 2008, is also credited as an author on the agency’s Planetary Flight Handbook. America Meredith/Smithsonian Institution
NASA computer Katherine Johnson sits at her desk.
Katherine Johnson fought her way through the rancor of school integration in West Virginia to graduate with a college degree in math. After teaching for a few years, she moved to Virginia with her family to join an all-black computing squad. As the U.S.-Soviet space race kicked up, Johnson ciphered flight targets and other data for Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong; later she worked on the International Space Station and multiple satellite programs. She won the Presidential Medal of Honor in 2015. NASA
Vera Rubin adjusts a telescope at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona.
Vera Rubin’s insight on particle physics and how it shaped—and was shaped—by galactic forces helped spawn the discovery of dark matter. Yet the female pioneer, who launched her career in California’s Palomar Observatory in the 1960s, never received a call from the Nobel Prize committee. In January, the National Science Foundation named a newly constructed telescope in Chile in her honor. Smithsonian Institution
Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova prepares for launch on the Vostok 6.
The 1960s rocket race between the U.S.S.R and US had its perks: one of which was the first woman in space. At 26, Valentina Tereshkova broke the milestone for the Soviet Union, circling Earth 48 times in 78 hours before drifting back down to land. The factory worker had little cosmonaut training, but her parachuting skills put her ahead of dozens of other women eventually sent into orbit. Tershkova herself never stepped on a rocket again. NASA
Chiaki Mukai is the first female Japanese astronaut in space.
Chiaki Mukai had her mind set on being a heart surgeon, but the call of interstellar travel won out. She joined Japan’s Aerospace Exploration Agency in 1985 and built up her muscles for zero gravity by swimming every day. After the Challenger explosion, she almost bowed out of the program, saying, “watching the cutting edge of human technology turn into a giant orange ball of flames made my knees shake. It felt like a slap in the face for our arrogance, placing too much faith in technology.” But she made it into orbit twice, and is now the vice president of Tokyo University of Science. NASA
NASA astronaut Kalpana Chawla died in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.
Of the seven astronauts that died on the Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003, Kalpana Chawla was the farthest away from home. She grew up and studied aeronautical engineering in India, and eventually relocated to California to work for NASA. The doomed Columbia space flight was her third: She served as a mission specialist on two other research trips, specializing in robotics. Chawla also had a commercial pilot’s and flight instructor’s license. NASA
Ritu Karidhal is the deputy operations director at the Indian Space Research Organization
India sent an orbiter to Mars in 2014 and nearly set a lander on the moon last fall. Ritu Karidhal, deputy operations director at the nation’s space agency, helmed both missions with her colleague Muthayya Vanitha, and she’ll likely be orchestrating India’s next big launch, Gaganyaan, which is set to circle the Earth in 2022. Karidhal’s work even inspired a Bollywood movie, “Mission Mangal.” TED