Women in space (and in space movies/TV)


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
. 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.

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
(2002) and Serenity (2005): Gina
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

Your turn. Who are your favorite
fictional women in space?

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