It began with six pioneers — all hyper-achieving Ph.D.’s or M.D.’s — who in 1978 broke into what had been an exclusively male NASA club. Sally Ride (not pictured) was the first of the six to reach space. Anna Fisher (second from left), a chemist and physician, was fourth — on mission STS-51A in 1984. The first mother in space, she took a six-year leave of absence in the 1990s to raise her family. Fisher, now 61, and Shannon Lucid (who lived on the Mir space station in 1996) are the last of the original female astronauts still at NASA. A total of 45 American women have flown on the shuttle. Just two — Pam Melroy and Eileen Collins (third and fourth from left) — became shuttle commanders, having both been Air Force pilots before turning to spaceflight. Mae Jemison (far right) followed a different path to orbit — a medical doctor and Peace Corps worker, she was inspired by Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura to apply to the astronaut corps. When Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, a 35-year-old former teacher (second from right), flew last April, she was the shuttle’s last rookie astronaut. To show how far we’ve come since the days of the Mercury Seven: The shuttle era ends with a woman — 50-year-old former biochemist Peggy Whitson (far left) — as NASA’s Chief Astronaut.
Photos from: "Shuttlenauts" »