Top 5 influential women astronauts who paved the way to space

Who knew that a female marine biologist would end up an astronaut?

That's precisely what happened to Zena Cardman, one of the women recently enrolled into NASA's 2017 Astronaut Class.

Photo: NASA

Zena Cardman is just one of the many women who will venture to space - NASA's gender-equal space programme has many more remarkable women and men who are training to fly among the stars.

The space programme hasn't always been like this - take it from Sally Ride, the first American in space, who had to fight sexist questions from the press about her reproductive organs as she trained to be an astronaut.

Let us then take a look at five women who, on their rockets up to space, have broken the figurative glass ceiling and advanced science back on earth.

Valentina Tereshkova

Photo: NASA

Hailing from a humble background, Russian astronaut Valentina Tereshkova had a tractor driver for a father and a textile plant worker for a mother.

From a young age, she expressed interest in skydiving and that very interest propelled her into becoming the first woman in space.

Tereshkova joined the Soviet female cosmonaut corps on Feb 16, 1962.

There, she became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963 on the Vostok 6.

Sally Ride

Photo: NASA

Ride was the first American woman in space. She is a Los Angeles native who earned her PhD in physics at Stanford.

This specialty in physics then led her to pursue an application for NASA's space programme.

Ride joined NASA in 1978, where she became the first American woman crew member on the mission STS-7 on the space shuttle Challenger.

What's even more remarkable is that she managed to fight off sexist questions about whether she'd be taking makeup up to space or even worse - "What do you do when you get your period in space?"

Liu Yang

Photo: NASA

The first Chinese woman in space, Liu has helped propel China's efforts in manned space exploration.

She was part of the crew of Shenzhou 9, the first manned mission to the Chinese space station Tiangong one.

Fun fact: Shenzhou 9 was launched 49 years to the day after Tereshkova's mission was launched.

Chiaki Mukai

Photo: NASA

Mukai is the embodiment of an overachiever - she has two doctorates in medicine and physiology.

To add to that, Mukai became the first Japanese woman in space in 1994, flying abroad the STS-65 in 1994.

She then became first Japanese citizen to fly twice in space on the STS-95 in 1998.

Mukai is a member of The American Aerospace Medical Association, the Japan Society of Microgravity Applications and the Japan Society of Aerospace and Environmental Medicine.

That's even more achievements.

Kalpana Chawla

Photo: NASA

Born in India, Chawla grew up loving aeroplanes and had a naturally inquisitive mind.

This led her to pursue an education in aeronautical engineering, leading to an eventual PhD in aerospace engineering in 1988 at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

She then began working at NASA, which paved the way for her first mission to space in 1996, wherein she also became the first woman of Indian origin in space.

Sadly, she perished in the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003.

These five women have certainly paved the way in manned space exploration.

They continue to inspire girls and boys alike to pursue their dreams of reaching the stars.

Many of us have dreamed of being astronauts, but these brave women took the extra step and pursued their dreams. Bravo!