While the first real-life woman to fly into space didn't do so until 1963, fictional women had already been zooming around the universe for more than a century.

The first was probably in Andre Laurie's incredible The Conquest of the Moon of 1889. The story revolves around a group of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs who think that instead of figuring a way to travel to the moon, it would make more sense to bring the moon down to the earth. To accomplish this, they construct a titanic electromagnet in North Africa by wrapping an entire iron ore-laden mountain with cables energized by huge solar power generators. It seems to work, but as soon as the moon gets near the earth, the mountain itself is ripped bodily from our planet and lands on the moon, carrying with it everyone who was on it at the time. This includes several women, most notably the lovely Mlle. Gertrude Kersain, the beloved of the hero.


When the men decide to explore the lunar landscape, she protests at being left behind. “"I am quite tired,”" said Gertrude, "“of being a useless member of society, and I demand my share of work with the rest!”"

Wearing an "oxygen respirator"—making her probably the first fictional woman to wear anything resembling a spacesuit—she takes part in astronomical observations and is instrumental in discovering the remnants of an ancient lunar civilization, which she accomplishes while exploring the surface of the moon on her own.


The second outstanding woman astronaut was probably Lilla Zaidie Rennick in George Griffith's 1900 novel, A Honeymoon in Space (originally serialized in Pearson's Magazine as Stories of Other Worlds).

The stories tell of "the adventures of Rollo Lenox Smeaton Aubrey, Earl of Redgrave, and his bride Lilla Zaidie, daughter of the late Professor Hartley Rennick . . ." These adventures are made possible by the Professor's discovery of the "separation of the Forces of Nature into their positive and negative elements. "This includes gravity, which is divided into an attractive force and a repulsive force. He is able to construct a machine which generates either of these two forces as needed. It is, of course, only a small step to the building of the spaceship Astronef. All of this work is financed by Lord Redgrave who "was equally fascinated by the daring theories of the Professor, and by the mental and physical charms of Miss Zaidie." Accompanied by the trusty old engineer, Andrew Murgatroyd, a successful trial flight is made across the Atlantic. Lord Redgrave and Zaidie are married immediately afterwards and what would be more natural than to celebrate their honeymoon in space?

The illustrations by Stanley Wood that accompanied the story are utterly charming—and they are also among the first depictions of a woman in a spacesuit. What makes these specially interesting is the fact that Zaidie's and Rollo's helmets are connected with a telephone wire only about three feet long.Rivaling Zaidie for first place in the fictional spacewoman race is the indomitable Rhoda Gibbs of Arthur Train and Robert Wood's classic The Moon Maker (1915). The novel was a sequel to The Man Who Shook the Earth, in which the authors not only describe the first atomic explosion in history but also a spacecraft propelled by nuclear energy. In Moon Maker, an asteroid is discovered to be on a collision course with the earth. The spaceship is sent on a mission to rendezvous with the asteroid and, if possible, divert it from its orbit.

The female astronaut in this story takes a much more active role in the adventure than any previous contender. First off, she's not only beautiful but a mathematical genius who is is the first to discover and calculate the asteroid's orbit, she is also responsible for determining the trajectory the spacecraft needs to follow in order to accomplish its world-saving mission. When she learns that she is to be left behind, she stows away aboard the spaceship. A good thing, too, since her presence turns out to be vital to the success of the mission.

At one point in the story, Rhoda has an adventure of her own when she becomes lost on the surface of the moon. She nearly dies in her effort to return to the ship and it's only through her strength and perseverance that she survives.

By the early decades of the twentieth century, the idea of women in space was no longer a novel idea and while they hardly appeared with anything like regularity, neither was it especially unusual for a woman to be depicted piloting a spaceship or exploring another world. For instance, in this illustration by Raffin from Henri de Graffigny's 1925 novel, Voyage de cinq Amèricains dans les planètes, a trio of tuber-like aliens confront explorers from the earth—including a stylish female American astronaut. By the 1930s and 1940s, women astronauts were not only commonplace, many were starring in their own series of popular novels and short stories, such as the fabulous Gerry Carlyle. Perhaps most importantly, they were, like Rhoda Gibbs, depicted as being invariably intelligent, competent and heroic.