Women and Space: A Roundup

Posted by Sara Grochowski

(Photo by Ellyot on Unsplash)

As space pioneer Sally Ride’s birthday approaches (May 26) and discussion of the incredible women in Hidden Figures demands attention and captivates imaginations, we consider the role of women in science and how, for years, their stories have been superseded by their male counterparts. Today we honor Sally Ride and the countless women who broke boundaries and denied stereotypes by highlighting exceptional accounts of their stories.


The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel

Dava Sobel (Galileo’s Daughter, Longitude) tells the little-known story of the women employed Harvard College Observatory during the mid-nineteenth century to interpret the observations made via telescope by their male counterparts. What began as a group of wives, sisters, and daughters of resident astronomers grew into a corps of graduates from female colleges, including Wellesley, Vassar, and Smith by the 1880s. These exceptional women helped discern what stars are made of, categorized stars by meaningful characteristics, and found a way to measure distances across space by starlight. Featured in Sobel’s book are Williamina Fleming, a one-time maid who identified ten novae and more than 300 variable stars; Annie Jump Cannon, who designed a stellar classification system that is still in use today; and Dr. Cecilia Payne-Gaposckin, who in 1956 became the first woman professor of astronomy at Harvard.


Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt

In this narrative nonfiction account from Nathalia Holt, shares the story of an elite group of young women – known as “human computers” — who transcended boundaries of gender and science during the 1940s and 50s as part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Through extensive research and interviews with living members of the team, Holt offers a singular perspective on the role of women in science.


Margaret and the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Saved the First Lunar Landing by Dean Robbins & Lucy Knisley

Author Dean Robbins (Two Friends: Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass) and illustrator Lucy Knisely (French Milk) team up to tell the story of Margaret Hamilton in this picture book for young readers. The story follows mathematically-minded Hamilton from a young age as she excels at algebra, geometry, and calculus, reveling in using math to solve real-world problems. Eventually handwriting the code that NASA’s spacecrafts would use, Hamilton’s code made Apollo 8, Apollo 9, Apollo 10, and Apollo 11 possible.


Sally Ride: A Photobiography of America’s Pioneering Woman in Space by Tam O’Shaughnessy

Compiled and written by Sally Ride’s life, writing, and business partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, this intimate photobiography chronicles Ride’s life from her formative years to her final moments. Called an underachiever by her high school classmates, Ride went on to earn her Ph.D. in physics, becoming a ground-breaking astronaut and an advocate for space exploration, public policy, and science education. She tirelessly fought gender stereotypes and opened doors for girls and women in all fields.


Women in Space: 23 Stories of First Flights, Scientific Missions, and Gravity-Breaking Adventures by Karen Bush Gibson

In this installment in Chicago Review Press’s Women in Action series, Karen Bush Gibson profiles 23 female space pioneers and the vital role women have played in the quest for scientific understanding, all while being denied the opportunity to join their male counterparts in space. Notable profiles include Eileen Collins, the first woman to command the space shuttle; Mae Jemison, the first African American woman in space; and Peggy Whitson, who logged more than a year in orbit aboard the International Space Station. Gibson also includes lesser known astronauts from Japan, Canada, Italy, South Korea, France and more.

Sara Grochowski

Sara Grochowski is an unapologetic book pusher, whether she’s in the library stacks or bookstore. She also writes for Publisher’s Weekly and speaks at conferences about great books and best practices for booksellers and librarians. You can find her on Twitter @thehidingspot and her blog, The Hiding Spot.