As the first American female astronaut to fly into space on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride made history. Her name became synonymous with courage, excellence and the breakthrough of women, at last, into the storied all-male, all-white culture of NASA. In this eye-opening, untold chapter of history, The Six, acclaimed space reporter Loren Grush ensures that Ride’s five female colleagues in NASA’s astronaut group 8 also get their due. Each left their mark in a field often hostile to their gender. One, Judy Resnik, lost her life on January 28, 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded minutes after launching. She held a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and was the first Jewish American astronaut.
Grush roots the women’s stories in the context of their times, explaining the political and cultural pressures NASA was under when they chose to admit the six women in 1978. But she also maintains a detailed focus on each astronaut, imbuing her portraits of each with an intimacy that makes them utterly memorable. Geologist and oceanographer Kathy Sullivan would become the first American woman to walk in space. Judy Resnik specialized in the shuttle’s robotic arm, which served as “the world’s most sophisticated arcade claw game.” Emergency physician Anna Fisher became the first mother to fly into space. Surgeon Rhea Seddon, married to a fellow astronaut, gave birth to the first “astrotot.” Biochemist Ph.D. Shannon Lucid, a married mother of three, once held the record for the longest continuous stay in space, aboard the International Space Station. Sally Ride was a former junior tennis champion and held degrees in physics and English. After working on the Rogers Commission to discover why Challenger exploded, Ride left NASA and helped to create the nonprofit Sally Ride Science, inspiring children, especially girls, to pursue science and math careers. Upon her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012, it was revealed that she was the first LGBTQ+ astronaut.
NASA also needed these first female astronauts to be their ambassadors. The women had to deal with the male-dominated media of their day, fielding questions from Tom Brokaw like, “Did you ever wish you were a boy?” and jokes from Johnny Carson: “Imagine a woman astronaut…out in space. She says, ‘My God, I forgot to leave a note for the milkman.’” Grush makes it thrillingly clear: These six women rose far above such misogyny, smashing our planet’s highest ceilings as they soared.