The equal rights stuff

04.12.2021 - By Discovery

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In 1976, Nasa launched a campaign to help recruit the next generation of Astronauts. It was fronted by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols, Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura, as part of an effort to ensure the astronaut corps represented the diversity of the United States.

When they were revealed to the press, the 35 members of the new astronaut group included six women, three African American men and one Asian American man. All were appointed on merit.

The selection of the first women caused quite a stir. As the ‘first mom in space’, Anna Fisher was asked by the press whether she was worried about her child (none of the fathers were asked). There were also jibes about separate restrooms and whether the women would ‘weep’ if something went wrong.

Meanwhile, Nasa’s engineers suggested developing a zero-g makeup kit and the first US woman in space, Sally Ride, was issued with a long string of tampons (joined together like sausages) for a six-day mission.

To mark the 40th anniversary of the first Shuttle launch in April 1981, astronaut Nicole Stott speaks to some of these pioneers and hears how Nasa has since aimed to become a beacon for diversity.

Contributors also include astronaut Charles Bolden, the first African American to head the space agency and – as Nasa prepares to land the first woman on the Moon – its new head of human spaceflight, Kathy Lueders.

(Image: Sally Ride. Credit: Nasa)

Producer: Richard Hollingham

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