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Women in the Cold War (redirected from Sputnik, the Space Race and Women in STEM)

Page history last edited by Robert W. Maloy 2 months, 3 weeks ago




History of Women and Space Exploration


AP US History Key Concept 8.3:  Postwar Changes in American Society, Politics and Culture



Topics on the Page


Women in STEM

  • The movie Hidden Figures


  • Women Contributors to the Space Race and NASA 
    • Dorothy Vaughan
    • Katherine Johnson
    • Kitty O'Brien Joyner
    • Mary Jackson
    • Christa McAuliffe  




Women of the Cold War and the Space Race




  • Women’s Armed Services Integration Act 1948
  • Haydee Santamaria 




Spies & Espionage 


  • Eloise Page
  • Virginia Hall
  • Juanita Moody 



Nurses & Medicine  


  • Army Nurse Corps

Workers and Owners 


  • Dolores Huerta 

Political Activists 


  • Women Strike for Peace, 1961-1975
  • Bella Abzug and Dagmar Wilson
  • ​Coretta Scott King 
  • Rigoberta Menchu 
  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo 



Science/Tech Pathfinders 


United States

  • The Mercury 13 

  • Dorothy Vaughan

  • Katherine Johnson

  • Kitty O'Brien Joyner

  • Mary Jackson

  • Christa McAuliffe 



Soviet Union 

  • Valentina Tereshkova  




Political Activists 


  • Women Strike for Peace, 1961-1975
  • Bella Abzug and Dagmar Wilson
  • Coretta Scott King
  • Rigoberta Menchu
  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo 


Madres de Plaza de Mayo 


 Women in STEM


Women had been working for the government as human computers since 1935.


Executive Order 9346 (1943) was designed to promote fair hiring practices in wartime industries


  • Led to more opportunities for African Americans, particularly Black women working as human computers reading film from wind tunnel tests, running calculations and plotting collected data.


  • Two books, The Girls of Atomic City and Hidden Figures, reveal the untold stories of women in STEM fields, the building of the atomic bomb and the space race.



Hidden Figures Movie and Book


Hidden Figures Trailer 



Major Women Contributors to the Space Race and NASA


  • Dorothy Vaughan

Hidden Stories: Dorothy Vaughan 


    •  Mathematician Dorothy Vaughan worked as a human computer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later transitioned into NASA.


    • She worked in the segregated group of African-American woman at Langley Research Center who solved complex mathematical calculations by hand. She specialized in flight paths, the Scout family of rockets and FORTRAN computer programming, going on to become NACA’s first Black supervisor.


    • Intuiting the rise of machine computers over human computers, she had the foresight to begin teaching women programming languages to prepare them for the transition and ensure they weren't out of a job. She is featured in the movie Hidden Figures.



  • Katherine Johnson

 Katherine Johnson: Trailblazing NASA Mathematician 


            Calculating the Mathematics of John Glenn's Space Flight


    • Despite being forced to work under segregated conditions, Katherine Johnson and her brilliance with numbers played a pivotal role in the US's first space missions.


    • During her NASA career, she calculated the trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for many flights of Project Mercury, the US’s first human spaceflight program, and the Apollo 11 flight to the moon.


    • When NASA began to use electronic computers for their calculations, astronaut John Glenn refused to fly unless Johnson verified that all the numbers were correct.


    • In 2015, at the of age 97, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama, America’s highest civilian honor. 





Biography:  Katherine Johnson 


Katherine Johnson Interview





  • Kitty O’Brien Joyner 

    • Kitty Joyner was not only the first woman to graduate from the University of Virginia’s engineering program, but she also went on to become NASA’s first woman engineer.


    • She initiated a successful lawsuit in order to be permitted to receive her education, at a time when women were not accepted into the all-male engineering school, and subsequently worked as an electrical engineer at NASA for 32 years.


    • She managed several wind tunnels, including supersonic wind tunnels, used to test new aircraft designs before they go into flight, making her work critical in defining the standards for modern aeronautics that we have today. 



  • Mary Jackson 

 Hidden Figures: Mary Jackson represents herself in court 


             Mary Jackson First Black Woman Engineer at NASA


    • Mary Jackson began her career as a mathematics teacher, before becoming a human computer at NASA.


    • She petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to attend an all-white engineering evening program and won, becoming NASA’s first black female engineer. Her work revolved around understanding air flow, with the aim to improve the aerodynamics of planes.


    • After achieving the most senior title within the engineering department, she took a demotion in order to work in the Equal Opportunity Specialist field, to make changes, support and highlight women and other minorities in the field.



  • Sally Kristen Ride

    • Sally Ride was the first American woman in space as well as being the youngest person, having done so at the age of 32.


    • She joined NASA in 1978 where she served as a ground-based capsule communicator and helped develop the robot arm used on space shuttle Canadarm.


    • She was the only person to serve on both committees investigating the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters, and reportedly provided the key information that eventually led to the cause of the Challenger’s explosion being discovered. 


    • After her death in 2012, Ride revealed in her obituary that she was a member of the LGBTQ+ community and had been with her partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, for 27 years.



  • Valentina Tereshkova 


    • Valentina Tereshkova is was a textile factory worker and an amateur skydiver before her selection for the Soviet space program, who became the first woman to travel to space. She was born on March 6, 1937, in Maslennikovo, Russia.


    • Tereshkova was selected as a cosmonaut candidate in 1962, as part of the Vostok 5 program. On June 16, 1963, she was launched into space aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft and orbited the Earth 48 times during her three-day mission.


    • After her historic flight, Tereshkova became a prominent public figure in the Soviet Union and was awarded the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union medals for her achievement. She later became involved in politics and served as a member of the Soviet parliament and as a representative of the Communist Party.   






  • Christa McAuliffe


The Lost Lessons of Christa McAuliffe 

  •  The lessons Christa McAuliffe had planned for the Challenger STS 51L Teacher in Space mission unfortunately never got released due to the fatal explosion of the Challenger which led to her death along with 6 other crew members.


  • NASA has decided to re-create these lessons in the International Space Station with Ricky Arnold and Joe Acaba.






History of NASA


Ellison Onizuka




Multimedia Source


History Brief: The Space Race


National Geographic Hidden Pictures of Women in NASA


13 Amazing Facts About the Women of NASA from Reader's Digest


At NASA Women Are Still a Big Minority

  • Click Here to learn about the actual ratio of men to women in NASA's workforce.


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