Illustrated portraits of woman astronauts

Artist Philip J Bond created a set of illustrations depicting the women who've been to space. They're beautiful and full of personality and style, and really do justice to their subjects. I just showed these to my five year old daughter, and she was as entranced as I was.

Working for months at a time just penciling a comic book I started these portraits to get a bit of inking and colouring out of my system. I shouldn't say 'portraits', I'm not going for much of a likeness. Usually I'll glance at a couple of photographs and then go off and draw a vague impression. Margaret Seddon is blonde, Judith Resnik is a bit barmy looking, that sort of thing.



  1. I’m never comfortable with “woman” as an adjective, imagine writing “man astronauts”, why don’t we use “female”?

    Whilst I’m moaning I’ll also complain that many of these lovely portraits are cosmonauts ;-)

    1. “Here’s the thing: “woman” implies both biology and humanity. To take it a little further, “lady” implies biology, humanity, and, to an extent, behavior or social standing. “Girl” implies biology, humanity, and age. “Female” reduces down to purely biology, removing the linguistic shorthand that clarifies that we’re talking about a human being here. And while it seems like a nitpicky little thing to focus on in the larger arena of feminism, we all know that words are important. When someone chooses to refer to women as “females,” they’re making a choice, consciously or not, to dehumanize and demean, and it’s such a specific verbal tic that I wonder if it’s ever truly coincidental.” – ref 

      I’ve also wondered this previously, but as quoted above, female doesn’t denote adult or human specifically. I look forward to the day it’s largely irrelevant.

      1. Another alternative would be to say astro-women or something, but then we are just gendering occupations which is probably worse.

        1. Nauta is one of only three first declension masculine nouns which end in ‘a’, usually a feminine ending. Make of that what you will.

      2. I largely use “female” when saying “woman” or “girl” is not useful, or when both women and girls are involved. And I am female.

        I think it’s useful BECAUSE it’s clinical. The flipside of “woman” is that yes, it does specifically refer to a human, but it’s also a word that carries substantial culture baggage — the idea of age, maturity, sophistication, and that problematic idea of “womanliness.” I also dislike “girls” when applied to women older than teenaged, because I find it infantilizing and often condescending (and being repulsive, cutesy slang for one’s breasts for people who can’t say “breasts”). 

        It also reminds me of stupid terms like “woman driver” or “woman doctor.”

        Not to mention the grammatical point made above. “Woman” is a noun.

        1. wom·an
          noun, plural wom·en, verb, adjective
          13. of women; womanly.
          14. female: a woman plumber.

          1. Woman plumber: A plumber of women. 

            But yes, taken. The objection should be stylistic, not grammatical.

      3.  Perhaps there can be an argument that “female astronaut” is not inherently dehumanizing in the way the word “females” in general is. Astronaut implies humanity, unless we are conferring the title on Albert 1 and Albert 2.

  2. These are very cool. It’s kind of interesting to see how the Soviets were ahead of the curve, but women’s participation seems to drop off a bit compared the American women later on.  I wonder if that had to do with the economic problems of the 70s/80s, and maybe there was just a generally drop off in Soviet space missions? I’m not sure if that’s true, but it seems like it would have been? Anyone know any books on the cold war space race from the Soviet POV?

    Also, I didn’t realize that Mae Jemison had a guest role in “The Next Generation”!  We are rewatching the series now with our kiddo and I’ll have to point that out when we get there (we’re in the middle of the 4th season…).  

    1. Tereshkova’s flight was intended as propaganda, but that was par for the course at the time. The superiors of Sergei Korolev (the “Chief Designer” of the Soviet space program) insisted on a string of “firsts in space” (first woman in space, first space rendezvous, first three-person craft, first spacewalk, etc.), and Korolev produced them (some say at the expense of the long-term goal of landing humans on the moon). After her flight, she, like John Glenn and Yuri Gagarin, was not allowed to fly in space lest a hero be lost – she was also apparently pushed into a less-then-ideal marriage with fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev by the Soviet government. Voshkod 5 was a two-woman mission proposed for the mid-1960s, but it was cancelled along with the entire Voshkod program in favor of the all-new Soyuz. This was probably for the best, as a crude metaphor for a Voshkod
      would be a Smart Car (the earlier one-person Vostok) having its seats ripped out and replaced with bolted-down folding chairs, and then being advertised as “able to seat a family of four”.

      Since the Soviet manned space program was seen as a prestige item and was deeply intertwined with the military, funding was maintained pretty well even as the economy stagnated in the 70’s and 80’s – only after the fall of the Soviet Union did it really drop off.

      As for NASA, they claimed they were more concerned about “results” than space spectaculars, so proposals for women in space were never officially considered until the eighth group of astronauts was selected in 1978 – perhaps not so coincidentally, Svetlana Savitskaya began cosmonaut training in 1980. Apparently the mindset of “knights in space” just wouldn’t allow for it before then. :(

      Some good English-language books about the Soviet manned program would be  Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon , Sputnik and the Soviet Space Challenge , and The Soviet Space Race with Apollo ; they all include lots of information that only came out in the 1990s.

  3. These are wonderful. I love the way he handles colours and how lively and full of personality each portrait is. Must check out more of his work!

    1. He said somewhere in the Flickr comments that he was a bit conflicted about including her in that set because she tragically never made it to space. I guess it’s a standalone homage piece.

      1. An ASTRONAUT is defined as: “A person trained to pilot, navigate, or otherwise participate as a crew member of a spacecraft.” By this definition Sharon Christa McAuliffe certainly qualifies as an Astronaut even if her spacecraft never reached space.

        1. No point arguing with me about it: I’m just repeating what the artist stated. He specifically says he made the series as ‘women who’ve been in space’ and he lists them in order (1st in space, 2nd in space, etc…). Personally, I would have included McAuliffe nonetheless, but it’s his list and his definition.

    1.  It’s a term our species often uses for artworks we appreciate.

      So are you thinking the term is sexist in this context and wouldn’t have been used if the portraits were of men? I pretty much disagree.

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