Encouraging Girls to Reach for the Stars (Literally!)

Contributed by Suzanne Slade

Growing up, my favorite subjects in school were science and math. As high school graduation drew near, my mother suggested I study engineering. I didn’t really understand what engineers did, but the thought of taking more science and math classes in college sounded great. So I enrolled in a mechanical engineering program at college, and later accepted a job at McDonnell Douglas Space Systems in California where I worked on Delta and Titan rockets. That’s when my obsession with space began!

I retired from engineering years ago, and now enjoy encouraging girls who are interested in STEM careers. This post highlights a few women space pioneers and resources I hope will inspire girls who want to become astronauts, aerospace engineers, or pursue other fields in space exploration.

The journey for women into space has been long and challenging. In the 1960s women pilots participated in Lovelace’s Woman in Space Program where they completed astronaut fitness testing, hoping to prove women were ready to travel into space. Years later, NASA finally welcomed it’s first class of women astronaut candidates in 1978. These six smart, brave women forged a path for America’s future women space explorers.


[Left to right: Shannon Lucid, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn Sullivan, Judith Resnik, Anna Fisher, and Sally Ride.]

Over the next forty years women astronauts made countless contributions to our understanding of space, and they continue to make fascinating discoveries about the solar system and beyond. Three ground-breaking women who persevered and accomplished great “firsts” in space, and who would certainly encourage budding astronauts, are Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, and Peggy Whitson.


Sally Ride used to peer through a telescope in her bedroom window when she was a young girl and dreamed about exploring space. In college, Sally enthusiastically pursued her goal by taking many physics courses and earning a PhD. Dr. Ride became the first American woman in space when she blasted off on the Challenger space shuttle June 18, 1983. Only 32 years old, she was the youngest American to ever fly in space. In 1984, she soared into space a second time on another Challenger mission.