It’s no longer a surprise, at least not for Americans, when a woman goes into space. NASA took more than 20 years after Alan Shepard’s Mercury flight to launch Sally Ride, but since then dozens of U.S. women have blasted into orbit, done spacewalks, commanded shuttle missions, and even headed the astronaut corps (Peggy Whitson, until just last year). Not a big deal anymore.
China’s new space program is starting off, deliberately, with gender equality in mind. The last two Shenzhou flights have included women astronauts, and Chinese space officials have hinted that this will be the norm.
And the Russians? Well….
Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to reach orbit (50 years ago on Sunday) was Russian. So was the second — Svetlana Savitskaya — who flew 19 years after Tereshkova. A decade later came Elena Kondokova, who lived on the Mir space station and flew on NASA’s space shuttle. Since then, though, it’s been all men for Russia. Not a single Russian woman has been on the International Space Station in the 13 years that people (more than 200 so far) have been living and visiting there.
Next year that will change. Elena Serova, a 37-year-old former engineer chosen for the cosmonaut corps in 2006, is scheduled to fly on Expedition 41 in September 2014. Here’s a long interview/profile of Serova done last year for Roscosmos TV. It’s in Russian (sorry), but there are interesting scenes of her training, and interviews with her female cosmonaut predecessors.