Women have been contributing to the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) for millennia. Let’s meet a very few of the women who have had an impact on STEM fields. Then try our AR App for videos, Q&A, and more.Less
When Sally Ride flew aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983, she became the first American woman to reach space. She graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in physics before being accepted to the astronaut core in 1978. Following the loss of Challenger in 1986, Ride served on the presidential commission to investigate the accident. Once she left NASA, Ride started her own company to inspire girls and young women to pursue their interests in science and related fields.
Astronaut Jessica Watkins, who earned her PhD in Geology from the University of California, Los Angeles, spent 170 days in space in 2022. Watkins said that her experience wouldn’t have been possible if not for women like Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson; finally celebrated in Hidden Figures. To prepare for her voyages to space, Watkins trained in simulated space environments, like the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations mission in the only Aquatic habitat in the world.
Christina Hernandez is a systems engineer who worked on NASA’s Perseverance, the newest rover on the Red Planet. Her job at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California included the design and testing of the rover to be sure it would be operational once it arrived on the Martian surface. Her advice to others? Be as fearless as possible since “every explorer fails, but they also learn from failures.”
After graduating from Howard University in 1950 with a master’s degree in mathematics, Melba Roy Mouton worked for the Army Map Service and Census Bureau before transferring to NASA in 1959. She headed a group of NASA mathematicians, known as “computers,” who tracked early Echo satellites in Earth orbit. Her computations helped produce the orbital element timetables by which millions saw the satellite from Earth as it passed overhead.
Hedy Lamarr was an inventor who helped pioneer the technology that helped American naval torpedoes avoid being detected by the Nazis. Some of her work would partly become the basis for WiFi and GPS. Born in Austria in 1914, Lamarr was a pianist, dancer, and could speak four languages, and was interested in inventing and improving devices. She began acting as a teenager and eventually starred in many Hollywood films. In 2014, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Mae Jemison is a physician, Peace Corps volunteer, teacher, astronaut, dancer, entrepreneur, and speaks four languages. She earned her doctorate in medicine from Cornell University. In 1983, she applied to the NASA program, after being inspired by Sally Ride, the first woman in space, and Nichelle Nichols, an actor in Star Trek. In 1992, Dr. Jemison flew into space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour, becoming the first African-American woman in space.
By the time Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was launched into space from Baikonur Cosmodrome on July 16, 1963, she had already spent much of her life in the air. She became interested in parachuting at a young age, which led her to be recruited into the Soviet space program. Along with four other women, Tereshkova trained for 18 months to prepare for space flight. She was the only one of the five who ultimately flew into space. During her mission, Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times.
Astrophysicist Vera Rubin discovered evidence that the Universe was made of more than what could be seen with telescopes—today known as "dark matter". Born in 1928, she was drawn to watching the stars. Rubin was the sole astronomy major in her graduating class at Vassar in 1948. After Princeton denied her admittance to graduate school due to her being a woman, Rubin would eventually complete her PhD at Georgetown. She was a life-long advocate for women in science and scientific literacy.
Born in 1908, Mary Golda Ross was a member of the Cherokee Nation, and thought to be the first professional Native American female engineer. In 1942, after teaching math and science in rural Oklahoma, she earned a master’s degree and was hired as a mathematician for the Lockheed Corporation in California. During her career, she worked on many projects involving aeronautics and interplanetary spaceflight.
Ellen Ochoa worked as the 11th director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, TX. Ochoa received her PhD from Stanford University as a physics and optics researcher. She became the first Latina woman astronaut to go into space when she served aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1993. In subsequent years, she joined three more space flights, logging more than 40 days in space. In 2018, she was inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.