Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottoviani & Maris Wicks, 176 pp, RL 4

 Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier 

by Jim Ottoviani & Maris Wicks

Review Copy from First Second Books

With Astronauts, Ottoviani and Wicks (with Dr. Mary L. Cleave narrating) tell the story of the first women astronauts that is as much about the driving desire to go into space - and their pure joy in experiencing it - as it is the sexist challenges they faced in getting there. Drawing from many interviews, recordings, documents and conversations with Mary Cleave and Carolyn Huntoon, Astronauts is engaging, humorous, and rich with scientific details, from Cleave's research before she became an astronaut to technical passages on flying at zero Gs, operating a mechanical arm in space and conducting exerpiments in space along with all kinds of NASA acronyms. 

With Mary Cleave narrating, the story of Russian Valentina Tereshkova, the first (1963) and youngest woman to fly in space,  unfolds, paralleling the efforts of women to break through the impenetrable male dominated arena. Equal parts fascinating and infuriating, we learn about Dr. Lovelace and the Mercury 13, we see women testify at congressional hearings (women weigh less, consume less food and oxygen than men, and are more radiation resistant, less prone to heart attacks, less susceptible to monotony, loneliness heat, cold, pain and noise than men) and get shut down, we see women persisting and, finally we see them progressing. Along the way, work by people like Nichelle Nichols and her company, which was hired to recruit women and minorities to work for NASA, and TFNG. NASA Astronaut Group 8, assembled in 1978, almost 10 years after the last group. The thirty-five new guys (TFNG) included twenty-six white guys and, as Cleave says it, "nine . . . well . . . people who were not. Pretty diverse, for NASA." 

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space (and the earliest space traveler to be recognized as LGBTQ) was in NASA Astronaut Group 8 and, two years later, Marcy Cleave was selected to be part of NASA Astronaut Group 9. The last half of Astronauts follows Ride and Cleave as they prepare for their first flights and work on engineering and practical issues at the Johnson Space Center. Again, moments of frustration, like when Ride had to gently inform NASA engineers that 100 tampons was not the right number needed for one week in space, and perhaps asking their wives or girlfriends, or female colleagues like Ivy Hooks or Dottie Lee, would be helpful, are balanced with exhilarating moments. From Cleave being the CAPCOM (capsule communicator) for Ride's first flight, "making history," as the first woman in space to communicate with a woman on earth (Cleave's response to reporters wanting to know what they talked about his hilarious) to her preparations for her first trip where she would be operating a 50-foot arm with an astronaut on the other end, Ottoviani and Wicks make the entire voyage exciting and intense at times. Astronauts closes with Cleave's post-astronaut career and a nod - in photographs and illustrations - to the women astronauts and BIPOC astronauts who came after Ride and Cleave. 

Author's note, references, and bibliography included.

Also by Ottoviani & Wicks

More Excellent non-fiction graphic novels from Maris Wicks!

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