For decades, men have had all the glory in space exploration. Imagine how young girls would feel seeing a woman step on to the red planet

What do the names Kalpana Chawla, Mae Jemison, Valentina Tereshkova and Sally Ride mean to you? Until fairly recently, the names of these female space pioneers didn’t mean much to me. Despite being obsessed with all things space as a six-year-old girl, who thought a day out at the Jodrell Bank Observatory was as exciting as a trip to Disney World, I was never taught about them. I didn’t know that Dr (!) Tereshkova was the first woman to fly into space, that she was 26 when she went, and that when she took off she said, “Hey, sky! Take off your hat, I’m coming!” Nor did I know that Dr Chawla was the first Indian-born woman to go into space and that after she died in the Columbia disaster they named a hill on Mars after her.

A senior Nasa engineer, Allison McIntyre, said this week that the first person on Mars should be a woman. And she’s right, because despite the incredible work of many female scientists and engineers involved in space exploration, there has historically been a “space gap”.

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Read More The first human on Mars should be a woman – we deserve stardust too | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

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