Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012 at the age of 61. Although there are some reports on the Internet that the first woman in space was a member of a Greek-letter organization, I could find no collaborating evidence. Ride attended Swarthmore College, a college that at the time had no women’s fraternities, and then transferred to Stanford University. When she was an undergraduate at Stanford in the 1970s, the women’s fraternities hadn’t yet been allowed back on campus.
Judith Resnick, Ph.D., the second woman in space, was the first American astronaut to be a member of a National Panhellenic Conference organization. Resnick, an Alpha Epsilon Phi from the Carnegie Mellon University chapter, was also the first Jewish-American in space. She was killed in the January 28, 1986 Challenger disaster. Alpha Epsilon Phi’s Foundation established the Judith Resnick Memorial Scholarship as a tribute to her. Preference is given to members who are pursuing engineering, science or other related degrees. The sorority also presented a portrait of Resnick to her alma mater, Carnegie Mellon University.
While a number of female astronauts are graduates of the United States service academies, there are several other female astronauts who belong to National Panhellenic Conference organizations.
Margaret Rhea Seddon, M.D., earned a B.A. in physiology from the University of California, Berkeley. She is a member of Sigma Kappa. She married fellow astronaut Robert L. Gibson in April 1981 and they became the first U.S. astronauts to marry after being accepted into the program.
Bonnie Jeanne Dunbar, Ph.D., a graduate of the University of Washington, is a member of Kappa Delta.
Jan Davis, Ph.D., an Alpha Xi Delta, is a graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology. When she and Mark C. Lee, her husband, served as mission specialists on the Endeavour in September 1992, they became the first couple to fly in space together.
Mary Ellen Weber, Ph.D., was initiated into the Phi Mu chapter at Purdue University.
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, M.D., a member of Gamma Phi Beta at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, was killed in the 2003 Columbia disaster. There is a display of her NASA memorabilia on display in the Sorority’s International Headquarters Museum in Centennial, Colorado.. In 2004, the Gamma Phi Beta Foundation established the Laurel Salton Blair Clark MD Memorial Leadership Endowment which funds Gamma Phi Beta’s Leader Shape Institute, regional leadership conferences, collegiate consultant training and International Convention education programs.
Anna Lee Fisher, M.D., is a convention alumna initiate of Pi Beta Phi. She was honored at the 1989 San Diego Convention. She and her husband, fellow astronaut William F. Fisher, were married when they were chosen to be astronauts. Fisher was the first mother in space.
Susan J. Helms, M.S., a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, is a member of Chi Omega. She is a Special Initiate of the Chi Omega chapter at the University of New Mexico. Kate Rubins, Ph.D., from the 2011 astronaut class, is also a Chi Omega. Her undergraduate degree is from UC San Diego.
Two female astronauts are members of National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations. Mae Jemison was a member of the Shuttle Endeavour in 1992 and became the first African-American woman to travel in space. She is an honorary member of Alpha Kappa Alpha.
Joan Higginbotham, a Southern Illinois University at Carbondale graduate, was initiated into the Brevard County (Florida) Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc, in the spring of 1989.
Additionally, Carolyn Leach Huntoon, Ph.D., Delta Zeta, Northwestern State University, served as Astronaut Director of NASA.
The Women’s Fraternity/Sorority Women who have been or are astronauts in order of missions:
Judith Resnick, Ph.D., Alpha Epsilon Phi, Carnegie Mellon University
Anna Lee Fisher, M.D., Pi Beta Phi, Alumna Initiate, San Diego State University
Margaret Rhea Seddon, M.D., Sigma Kappa, University of California, Berkeley
Bonnie Jeanne Dunbar, Ph.D., Kappa Delta, University of Washington
Jan Davis, Ph.D., Alpha Xi Delta, Georgia Institute of Technology
Mae Jemison, M.D., Alpha Kappa Alpha, Honorary Initiate
Susan J. Helms, M.S., Chi Omega, Special Initiate, University of New Mexico
Mary Ellen Weber, Ph.D., Phi Mu, Purdue University
Laurel Blair Salton Clark, M.D., Gamma Phi Beta, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Joan Higginbotham, M.S., Delta Sigma Theta, Alumna Initiate
Kate Rubins, Ph.D., Chi Omega, UC San Diego