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Samantha Cristoforetti holds the record for the longest single space flight by any female astronaut, at 199 days and 16 hours. (Wikimedia Commons)

Women in space

Female astronauts break barriers and records

March 26, 2016

Records set by women in spaceflight are often qualified in respect to other women, but many people neglect to realize that women have been breaking records among their male colleagues too. Sally Ride, for instance, was the not only the first American woman to go to space, but the youngest American of either sex ever to fly in space. Ride is also the only known member of the LGBT community to fly in space. Peggy Whitson, who has spent a few hours shy of 377 days in space, more than any other female astronaut, is the first-ever mission specialist to become chief of NASA’s Astronaut Office, the most senior leadership position for active astronauts at NASA. Whitson’s colleague, Sunita Williams, is in the top five among NASA astronauts in terms of cumulative spacewalk time, and also the first person to run a marathon in space. Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti set a record in 2015 for the longest single spaceflight by any female astronaut. At the same time, she set the mark for longest single stay in space by any European astronaut outside of Russia.

It wasn’t until 1978 that NASA opened its astronaut application program to women, and Russia, which welcomed women early on, has had only four female cosmonauts in its entire history. But women are continuing to pioneer in space, and, in 2013, NASA’s newest astronaut class consisted of four men and four women — the highest percentage of women in an astronaut class in NASA history.

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