Women on the Moon: NASA Introduces Half-Female Class on Anniversary of Sally Ride's Historic Journey

The sky's the limit on the puns, so let's just say: On Monday, NASA introduced its newest class of astronauts, and a record half of these "Elite 8" are women. We need them: Of the 534 humans who have travelled in space, only 57 have been women. That said, the concept of a female astronaut is anything but alien (sorry). Shuttles from all parts of the space-exploring world have carried female passengers, pilots, commanders, and space-walkers. Click through to meet some of the women who paved the way for this year's NASA class.

A Group of Rocket Scientists, Star Academics, and Out-Of-This-World Pilots

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The sky's the limit on the puns, so let's just say: On Monday, NASA introduced its newest class of astronauts, and a record half of these "Elite 8" are women. We need them: Of the 534 humans who have travelled in space, only 57 have been women. That said, the concept of a female astronaut is anything but alien (sorry). Shuttles from all parts of the space-exploring world have carried female passengers, pilots, commanders, and space-walkers. Click through to meet some of the women who paved the way for this year's NASA class.

Valentina Tereshkova: Woman of the 20th Century

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Valentina Tereshkova made history as the very first woman in space—a Cold War race the Soviet Union was determined to win. Tereshkova joined the new "female cosmonaut corps" in 1962 as one of the five candidates chosen from over 400 applicants. Her mission—a three-day orbit on Vostok 6—encompassed more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. Despite profound nausea, Tereshkova kept a flight log and took photographs of the horizon, which were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere. Since then, she's received honors bestowed by everyone from the Republic of Mongolia to the International Women of the Year Association ,who named her the Woman of the Twentieth Century.

Sally Ride: American Pioneer

On June 18, 1983 (exactly 30 years ago today), Dr. Sally Ride became the first woman in space. At the age of 32, she was not only the youngest Shakespeare-loving, tennis-playing, Challenger-flying, Stanford-certified astrophysicist in orbit—she was also the first astronaut who had to answer antiquated press questions such as like "Will the ride affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong?" As People Magazine reported in 1983: "Ride considers herself an astronaut and a scientist—and she has little use for reporters who try to transform her into a celebrity." Ride passed away in 2012 at age 61. (Image: NASA)

Eileen Collins: All Sorts of Pilot Missions

NASA's Eileen Collins made it into history (at least!) twice: Once, as the first shuttle pilot in 1995, and then again as first woman commander of a shuttle mission in 1999. To become a commander, she had to log over 1,000 hours of experience piloting jet aircrafts. She commanded another mission in July 2005. Collins told Space.com: "I was just doing my job—a job I loved...I never really thought that much about, OK, I'm a woman and this is the first time a woman has flown as a pilot, the first time a woman has flown as commander." (Image: NASA)

Peggy Whitson: More Than an Earth-Year In Space

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson has spent more time in space than anybody alive— man, woman, American, or otherwise. She took the helm of the International Space Station in April 2008. Over the course of two trips to the ICC, she has logged 376 (earth) days, 17 hours, and 22 minutes in orbit. Whitson says she's dreamed of space since she was 9 years-old, but says : "it really didn’t become a reality to me to become a goal until I graduated from high school, which was coincidentally the same year they picked the first set of female astronauts. I think that was when I decided I wanted to become an astronaut." (Image: NASA)

The International Space Station in April, 2010: Wo-manning the ISS

When NASA astronauts Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, Stephanie Wilson, and Tracy Caldwell Dyson joined Japan's Naoko Yamazaki at the International Space Station, they broke the record for the largest number of women in space at one time. Just four girls, you know, gossiping about astrophysics and rocket science. (Image: NASA)