This year is becoming a blockbuster year for celebrating anniversaries in real life and at the movie theater. The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 manned moon landing in 1969, as celebrated in the biopic First Man and the documentary Apollo 11. The 40th anniversary of Alien introduced the kick-ass heroine, Ellen Ripley, in 1979. Six months before Alien became a hit at the movie theater, NASA selected Anna Lee Fisher to be one of six women astronauts for the space shuttle program in 1979.
Did you know that Ripley and Fisher were both moms in space?
My initial idea for this video was about NASA’s first all-female spacewalk with astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch outside of the International Space Station. NASA cancelled the spacewalk a few days later because there was only one medium torso among the four spacesuits on the International Space Station. The other available medium torso was, quite literally, out to the dry cleaners on Earth. The spacewalk went on with astronauts Christina Koch in a medium torso and Nick Hague in a large torso.
After sending 500 men into space, NASA still has problems with women in space.
If that was not bad enough, Vice President Mike Pence demanded from NASA that the first woman and the next man on the moon be American astronauts launched on an American rocket from American soil in the next five years. Never mind that the America First approach to space doesn’t include budget increases for NASA to return to the moon sooner than 2028 and design new spacesuits to accommodate different size astronauts of the opposite sex.
While researching this topic, I came across an essay by Taylor Page about the similarities between Ellen Ripley in Alien and Anna Fisher being selected by NASA in 1979. The two women—fictional and real—redefined the traditional female archetype to become role models in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
They were gender minorities in male-dominated industries. Ripley was an aerospace engineer and one of two women working on the doomed space tug when it came across the distress signal from LV-426 and the nearly indestructible xenomorph. Fisher had a master’s degree in chemistry when only 25% of chemists were woman at the time.
THIRD IN COMMAND
They were both third in command for their space assignments. After the captain and the executive officer, Ripley was third in command as the warrant officer. Fisher was a mission specialist and the third in command on board the Discovery for STS-51-A in November 1984, launching two satellites into orbit and retrieving two satellites from orbit.
MOMS IN SPACE
Something that the essay revealed was what happened before the events in Alien: Ripley violated “regulations by allowing a natural pregnancy to come to term” and her assignment on the space tug was “a renegotiation of her contract” to spend time with her daughter. Maternal instincts will become a big part of future Alien movies.
Fisher was the first American mom to go into space, having two daughters prior to her spaceflight and taking an eight-year leave from NASA to raise them before returning to the agency as a manager.
For the record, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 was the not only the first woman in space but also the first mom in space.
The essay noted that “Ripley served as one of the first non-sexualized leading independent women in cinema” (emphasis added).
*cough* Cheer if you remember the underwear scene in Alien? *cough*
Sigourney Weaver, who played Ripley, initially defended the underwear scene in an interview: “‘Are you kidding? After five days of blood and guts, and fear, and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?'”After receiving negative fan mail about the underwear scene and seeing how traditional Hollywood scripts were towards women, she would think twice about taking off her clothes for a movie.
Of course, that was 40 years ago and the times are different today.