As we leave the 50th anniversary of the moonshot behind and look ahead to the Mars mission and a possible Space Corps, it's not as though these concepts haven't crossed our minds before. These are four books dealing with women in space, all recently published.
Elma York is back in the sequel to The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. As the most famous astronaut, Elma is added to the Mars mission, bumping an equally qualified Taiwanese "astronautte", a move calculated to preserve funding. Tensions don't end there. Once in space, the well-meaning-but-clueless Elma tries to soothe nerves frayed by both being stuck in a tin can for 18 months and by social issues back home, exacerbating things. This is hard science fiction that deals realistically with the social mores and movements of the early 1960's, giving a more holistic view of space exploration.
Becky Chambers' forthcoming novella, To Be Taught, If Fortunate, also deals with the social and psychological implications of space travel. At the end of the 22nd century, technological advances have led to somaforming, a type of body modification that makes exploring other planets much more feasible. Combined with a form of metabolic suspension, these innovations make possible a mission deep into the galaxy to seek other life. As flight engineer Ariadne O'Neill and her colleagues discover, however, Earth has other concerns and may no longer care about their quest or their fate. What is home? Who is family? What makes us human? All questions pondered in this scientifically-informed tale.
Coming back to Earth in the face of devastation and division is the initial scenario of Reentry by Peter Cawdron, sequel to Retrograde. Liz Mathieson, having narrowly escaped death on Mars, has her life threatened again Earthside by people who think she is on the side of the AIs, against whom they just fought a horrific war. Liz is aided in her escape by said intelligences, along with the newly-incarnated consciousness of her dead lover. Allegiances are questioned as is the nature of consciousness as humans move beyond a dystopia and learn to collaborate with beings they previously reviled and feared.
In order to deal with an alien space craft, the remnants of NASA are going to need Sally Jansen, The Last Astronaut, in David Wellington's S/F thriller. You see, Jansen was the only surviving member of a doomed mission to walk on Mars, which led to the end of manned space flights. Trying to get to the extraterrestrial object before a corporate competitor can monetize the discovery, a NASA crew turn out to all have private agendas, of which Jansen's quest for redemption may be the most selfless. Arriving on the alien craft, the story quickly turns to psychological horror as it becomes clear that the visitors from elsewhere are not coming in peace.
Have more science fiction of women in space? Tell us in the comments.