Women Played Crucial Roles In The Space Program. Yet We Don’t Know Much About Them. Why?

Ride was followed by other women, including Bonnie Dunbar, of Sunnyside, Yakima County, and Mae Jemison, who in 1992 became the first African American woman to go to space. To date, 45 women have entered the American astronaut corps.

"Those women are not necessarily women like the Lovelace women who identified first as pilots and who are interested in flying the spacecraft," says Weitekamp. "These are people who have Ph. Ds in physics or oceanography or other kinds of research subjects who are going to be doing experiments in the payload bay of the space shuttle."

But the Lovelace women might've seen more of themselves in Eileen Collins, who in 1995 became the first woman space-shuttle pilot, decades after the Lovelace tests, or Spokane's Lt. Col. Anne McClain, a military test pilot who returned to Earth on June 25 after more than six months in space.

It's unlikely that NASA would have made this connection. "Part of what's frustrating is when they were greeting the women in the 1970s they did not look back at any of this data from the 1950s and 1960s. They just kind of started over," says Weitekamp.

It's an omission that reflects the circuitous churn of documenting women's history: one step forward, two steps back. Even though we know more about women's contributions to space travel than perhaps ever before, we still must reckon with blind spots, and the stories of lives and scientific achievements -- like those of Edith Gustan -- that we have yet to fully understand. ___ Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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