Space Women: A Remembrance of Four Heroes
Dr. Judith Arlene Resnik, Mrs. Sharon Christa McAuliffe, Dr. Kalpana Chawla, and Dr. Laurel Blair Clark. Photo Credit / NASA; Art / Omid Gohardani
Prior to the launch of NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover onboard an Atlas V 541 on July 30, 2020, from Cape Canaveral, the members of this space mission recognized an opportunity to celebrate global healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. By installing a plate featuring the Rod of Asclepius symbol (the staff and serpent symbol) on the chassis of the rover, a tribute to healthcare workers became a permanent display during a COVID-19 pandemic era that tragically has claimed millions of lives across the globe. In recognition of every lost life as one too many, countless men and women – such as essential workers – have tirelessly worked through these arduous times and they are true heroes.
The history of aeronautics and astronautics has also recorded many men and women who have performed above and beyond expectations to expand the knowledgebase of these disciplines and have at times, lost their lives in the process. For their contributions to push the frontiers of science and technology, these pioneers, whose names are etched in history for daring to face the unknown, will forever be known as heroes. The focal point of this article is to celebrate a small sample of these heroes, namely the four spacefaring women who lost their lives pursuing their passion for space exploration.
The rationale for focusing on the women herein of space is of relevance. Spacefaring men and women have significantly contributed to the knowledgebase currently known to humankind. Out of a total of 565 space travelers, only 65 of them, or 11.5%, have been women. Data from the Department of Labor suggests that even though an increasing percentage of workforce representation has been observed amongst women in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) in the United States, women still remain underrepresented. Despite an increase from 7% in 1960 to 26% in 2018 as depicted in the plot, STEM women still do not have equal representation within the workforce.
While the many successful accomplishments of women in STEM are showcased every day, emphasizing the push for equality and proportionate representation in society, it is important to revisit four heroes whose dreams, ambitions, and names still live on to this day and have inspired girls and women around the globe to pursue a career in STEM.
Dr. Judith Arlene Resnik. Photo Credit / NASA; Art / Omid Gohardani
Dr. Judith Arlene Resnik (5 April 1949 – 28 January 1986). Born in Akron, Ohio, Dr. Resnik was an American biomedical engineer, electrical engineer, software engineer, pilot, and NASA astronaut who tragically perished aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as it was destroyed during the launch of the mission STS-51-L. Dr. Resnik logged a total of 145 hours in orbit and was the second American woman in space and the fourth woman in space worldwide.
Mrs. Sharon Christa McAuliffe. Photo Credit / NASA; Art / Omid Gohardani
Mrs. Sharon Christa McAuliffe (née Corrigan; September 2, 1948 – January 28, 1986). Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Mrs. McAuliffe was an American teacher and NASA astronaut. She was selected from more than 11,000 applicants to participate in the NASA Teacher in Space Project and was scheduled to become the first teacher in space. Ms. McAuliffe tragically perished aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as it was destroyed during the launch of the mission STS-51-L.
Dr. Kalpana Chawla. Photo Credit / NASA; Art / Omid Gohardani
Dr. Kalpana Chawla (March 17, 1962 – February 1, 2003). Born in Karnal, Haryana, India, Dr. Chawla, a naturalized American was an aeronautical engineer and aerospace engineering, a pilot, and NASA astronaut. Dr. Chawla tragically perished aboard Space Shuttle Columbia during the STS-107 mission as it disintegrated over Texas. Dr. Chawla logged 734 hours in orbit and was the first Indian female astronaut.
Dr. Laurel Blair Clark. Photo Credit / NASA; Art / Omid Gohardani
Dr. Laurel Blair Clark (née Salton; March 10, 1961 – February 1, 2003). Born in Ames, Iowa, Dr. Clark was a zoologist, medical doctor, United States Navy Captain, and NASA astronaut. Dr. Clark tragically perished aboard Space Shuttle Columbia during the STS-107 mission as it disintegrated over Texas. Dr. Clark logged 382 hours in orbit.
While many of these four heroes were recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, they will forever be remembered for their bold aspirations and their brilliance, inspiring future generations of women and girls to aim for the stars.
The American Astronautical Society pays tribute to the seventeen heroic men and women who lost their lives pursing advances in space exploration during the Apollo 1, Challenger, and Columbia missions. Roger Chaffee, Gus Grissom, Ed White, Christa McAuliffe, Ron McNair, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Dick Scobee, Michael Smith, Gregory Jarvis, Michael Anderson, David Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Blair Salton Clark, Rick Husband, Willie McCool, and Ilan Ramon.
Dr. Amir S. Gohardani is currently the Chair of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Society and Aerospace Technology Outreach Committee and the President of Orange County Engineering Council in California. An aerospace leader, educator, and inventor, Dr. Gohardani is also the President of the Springs of Dreams Corporation, a non-profit organization with objectives of enriching human lives and enlightening society through knowledge and education.
Dr. Omid Gohardani is a professor and aerospace leader and the Vice President, Director of Research, and Co-founder of Springs of Dreams Corporation. Two identical twin brothers, Drs. Gohardani currently serve as NASA postdoctoral program reviewers and have held visiting research scholar positions at the University of Florida. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions expressed in this article are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the corporate views of any organization with which they are affiliated.