Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks

Published by First Second

Interior Image

Summary:  Real-life astronaut Mary Cleave narrates the story of how women clawed their way into the space program, beginning with a group of women called the Mercury 13 who tried to be part of the first group of astronauts.  Although they were qualified, and their smaller size would have been a plus on early space missions, they were eventually passed over for the all-male Mercury 7.  Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel to space.  It wasn’t until 1983 that Sally Ride broke the barriers at NASA, and many other women have succeeded there in the decades since.  The final section of the book is a detailed narrative of Cleave’s own journey aboard the space shuttle in 1985.  Includes photos of a diverse group of astronauts, an author’s note, and a lengthy bibliography.  176 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  As I’m writing this review, my daughter is sitting at the dining room table taking an orbital mechanics final for her graduate program in astronautics at Stanford, so I can’t help but be grateful for how far women have come since Sally Ride burst on the scene during my own college days.  This book gives a humorous but honest account of the hard work those early women had to do, and the ridiculous sexism that made it so difficult for them to become part of the space program.  The artwork is appealing, and the detailed illustrations of life aboard the space shuttle are truly remarkable. 

Cons:  The beginning, with its whirlwind history of the early days of the space program in both the U.S. and USSR, is a bit confusing, with a big cast of characters, and a lot of switching back and forth between the two countries (the Russian scenes are cleverly shown with a font resembling Cyrillic script).

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