Women in space (and in space movies/TV)

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On October 25, 2007, when international

space station commander Peggy Whitson welcomed space shuttle

Discovery commander Pamela Melroy on board, the

meeting marked the first time ever that two female

commanders have hooked up (no, not like that) in space.

That’s a happy addition to the timeline of women’s accomplishments

in space
.

Sometimes I think I’m the only one who

still gets excited about nonfictional shuttle launches. It’s

amazing to me that the same culture that paid George Lucas to

crank out his craptastic Star Wars prequels treats the space

program like the nerd in high school who liked math and carried around

Isaac Asimov
novels. (You know, ignore it most of the time,

but when

it’s having a bad day
,

tape a “kick me” sign to its back and watch it careen down the hall.)

But I get the fascination with space

stories. I grew up with E.T. (which is 25 years old this

year!), spent one summer in the ’80s watching Space Camp until

I wore out the tape, and yes, I, too, forked over the money for tickets to those Star Wars prequels, though that was mostly for Natalie

Portman
. And I do believe we should celebrate women in space-type

entertainment, because they encourage us to dream of possibilities outside

of our own experience. Here are a few of my favorites.

Side note: I didn’t mention — reluctantly, due to my abiding love for Ripley

— anybody who made Silver’s recent Sci Fi

/ Fantasy list.

Nor have I included Battlestar Galactica and Torchwood, both of which are in my queue marked “things I missed when I didn’t have TV but really need to watch.” Feel free to scold me in the comments.

1.

Kate Capshaw
as Andie Bergstrom in Space Camp (1986). Capshaw’s Andie, one of the counselors

at NASA’s camp for young would-be astronauts, heroically tries to save

a space shuttle full of teenage accidental tourists.

Doubtless my love for Capshaw’s character

and this movie stems from years of crushing on camp counselors at Girl

Scout camp. We never accidentally ended up orbiting the planet,

but I’ll admit to a fantasy involving riding horses along winding trails

next to a golden-haired counselor nicknamed “Trotter.”

2. Two of my favorite women from

Firefly
(2002) and Serenity (2005): Gina

Torres
as Zoe Washburn and Jewel Staite as Kaylee.

Zoe was a deadly fighter with nerves of steel, while Kaylee was the

big-hearted mechanical genius who kept the ship — and sometimes the

assorted cranky crew members — from falling apart.

I still have a soft spot for Kaylee.

So what if an entire subplot of the series was woven around her unrequited

love for Simon? She was a mechanic. Like my ex-girlfriend.

And my ex’s ex. And, well, you get the point.

3. From Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001),

Kate Mulgrew
as Captain Kathryn Janeway and Jeri Ryan as

Seven of Nine. The lesbian subtext was a frustrating pleasure of the show.

It’s been said that Seven of Nine’s outfit

was a sexist ploy to titillate male audiences. (I was not complaining.)

But Voyager featured a cast of strong female characters (I could mention Chief Engineer B’Elanna Torres as well) that I still

miss every time I turn on my TV.

4. Denise Richards as Carmen

Ibanez in Starship Troopers (1997). I know, the movie’s been accused

of pro-militaristic fascism (though I’ve always wanted to believe it

satire). And I know, it’s Denise Richards. I don’t understand

it either, but I love this movie, and Richards’ Carmen is both smart

and hot.

Besides, any universe where it’s a recognized

fact that women make superior pilots because of quicker female reflexes

and sharper minds can’t be all bad. Add a brilliant deadpan

performance by Neil Patrick Harris, and the movie version actually

is an oddly compelling social satire.

5. Jodie Foster in Contact (1997).

A no-brainer to round out my favorites.

Argue all you like whether Foster ever actually left the Earth. She still embodies that little kid in all

of us who wants to believe that there are answers out there about the

origin of the universe, and that humankind really can stop fighting long

enough to save itself and grow wiser. Now that’s the real final

frontier.

Your turn. Who are your favorite

fictional women in space?

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