Exploring the Heavens: Women in the Space Program

Exploring the Heavens: Women in the Space Program
Hillary Clinton: Science, Medicine, Inventions and tech

Skill: Middle School
Time Required: Two to three class periods


While attending Maine East High School in Oak Ridge, Illinois, Hillary Rodham wrote to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) asking for information on becoming an astronaut.  NASA replied that they did not accept women for astronaut training.  Times have surely changed since the early 1960s!


Students who participate in this activity will learn about the pioneering women in the American space program, and consider what personal and educational characteristics are required to be an astronaut and explore the heavens.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet.  Access to print materials about astronauts, both male and female.


1.  Ask students if they had ever considered the possibility of making a space flight.  Would they do it if they could?  Would any like to become an astronaut?

2.  Divide the class into several small groups.  One group should be assigned the task of researching the history of women in aviation and space exploration (sites 1 and 2, below).  From this information, members of this group should select what they consider to be the most important items to place on their own timeline--which should be made so that it can be displayed in the classroom for all to see.

3.  Members of the other groups should each select one women from the lists of former and active astronauts, research her biography, and write short essays about her background, schooling, degrees, and contributions to the space program (the site called "American Female Astronauts" gives a complete list, but the biographies on the other two sites are better).

4. Students should share their research, then discussing what kinds of education and other kinds of preparation are necessary to become an astronaut.

5.  Ask students, again, if anyone would like to become an astronaut.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson could be extended by having students research all the women who have played a part in space exploration, including Russian women.  Students could also create a classroom Hall of Fame for Women in Space Exploration.

Sources & Resources:


Timeline: Women in Space

Women in Space Firsts

Former Astronauts

Active Astronauts

American Female Astronauts



This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.