Samantha Cristoforetti is taking her Barbie to space
Samantha Cristoforetti is an astronaut, nerd and hero. She’s one of the very few women who've left planet Earth and its atmosphere. And if there’s one thing she’s great at, it’s overcoming boundaries. She studied in Italy, Germany, France and Russia before returning to Italy and joining the Italian army. There she became one of the very few women to hold the rank of lieutenant. And one of even fewer women who were fighter jet pilots.
Today, she’s 44-years old and set to embark on her second long-term mission into space next spring. On board the ISS, the trained engineer will be carrying out experiments. It’s her next mission after setting the record in 2014 for the longest spaceflight a European has ever been on – 199 days. It’s also the longest spaceflight a woman has ever been on. Samantha passed on this crown to Peggy Whitson, who then handed it over to Christina Koch. And before so much as setting foot on an astronaut training ground, Samantha successfully competed against 8,400 applicants.
The ISS is a special place for Samantha. She refers to the space station as «home away from home». To feel at ease in space, Samantha always packs something that makes her feel comfortable and safe. Once it was Captain Janeway’s uniform from the sci-fi series «Star Trek: Voyager,» then it was an espresso machine delivered by a SpaceX Dragon rocket.
On her second mission, Samantha will also be carrying something special in her luggage: a Barbie doll.
Female space history
With its Barbie doll line, toy manufacturer Mattel champions girls. When Samantha was featured in a promotional clip for Barbie in 2019, the 80-second video showed very little of the actual doll. By turning Samantha into a Barbie, Mattel wants to inspire girls to pursue careers in STEM fields in celebration of World Space Week. STEM is an acronym for the subjects science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Although Samantha is a hero to humankind, she’s even more of a role model for womankind.
«With hard work and a little luck, you can be anything,» Samantha says, establishing that women and girls have their place in space as much as men do. At least at NASA, space travel was a male domain for a long time. On the other side of the Iron Curtain, however, women were always among the Soviet Union’s cosmonauts and have been aboard Soyuz spacecrafts since the dawn of spaceflight.
The first earthling in space was also female. Soviet dog Laika was the first living creature from Earth to overcome the gravity of our blue planet. This Moscow street dog died aboard Soyuz 2, paving the way for cosmonauts, astronauts and taikonauts.
The first woman in space was Valentina Tereshkova. Aboard Vostok 6, she flew around planet earth 48 times in 1963. She was 26 at the time, which makes her the youngest woman in space to this day. She is also the only woman in human history to have made a solo flight in space until this day.
Years after Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon in 1969, and the Soviets officially lost the Cold War Space Race, cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman in human history to take a spacewalk in 1982.
A year later, Sally Ride went into space after having to endure questions from reporters such as, «Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?» «Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?» and, «Will you become a mother?» Sally Ride. Astronaut. And a woman who never lost her sense of humour or adventure in spite of it all. She described the flight into space as a «roller coaster at Disneyland» and made zero gravity accessible to all with the words, «Weightlessness is a lot of fun.»
Christa McAuliffe was aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986 when it exploded shortly after launch. She would’ve been the first teacher in space.
NASA wouldn’t have got far without women
When it comes to the beginnings of space travel to present-day developments, Guido Schwarz, chairman of the Swiss Space Museum Association, is a pro. He says women have always played an important role in space travel.
Today, gender doesn’t come into it anymore, Schwarz adds. «If you’re in the astronaut business, women have the same opportunities as men. It all boils down to competencies.»
Schwarz is singing the same tune Sally Ride was made to sing all her life. In television shows from the 1980s, Sally repeatedly needs to state that she’s a scientist with the rank of mission specialist. She adds that she happens to be a woman, but first and foremost an astronaut.
If women hadn’t been relegated to the footnotes of history, their presence at NASA wouldn't be considered so novel. It was on the ground only that women were important right from the very start, says Schwarz. For example, African American mathematicians such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. They contributed significantly to the success of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions in the 1960s. These women calculated trajectories or programmed the computers. Hollywood thanked them for it with the movie «Hidden Figures» – almost 60 years after their pioneering work.
Schwarz mentions Margaret Hamilton. She wrote the computer code for the Apollo missions. Without her, Neil Armstrong would never have left the ground, let alone made it to the moon.
Barbie was in space first. At least in the imagination
During the Cold War, there was one rule: if one side had something, the other had to have it, too. So after Valentina Tereshkova circumnavigated the Earth, the USA had to follow suit. But launching a woman into space seemed to be out of the question. This is the stuff of fiction only. More specifically of the AppleTV+ series «For all Mankind», in which the Soviet Union’s first man on the moon was a woman.
But there was one toy manufacturer who had great foresight: Mattel. Two years after Valentina’s flight in 1965, girls around the globe witnessed Space Barbie hit the shelves.
Barbie’s space boots have real zips, her hair is a neat bob that fits nicely under her space helmet. In her hand she holds the American flag. Of course she does.
The doll has become a collectible that will go for well over $100 at flea markets around the world. In 2009, the doll was even reissued as part of the «My Favorite Career» series. What’s more, Barbie was a space shuttle astronaut in 1994. More recently, Space Discovery Barbie’s astronaut suit is adorned with a red star on the chest – how times have changed.
And then, in 2019, came the doll modelled on Samantha Cristoforetti. She’ll be the youngest Barbie in space and the first Mattel doll to leave our planet.
Laika, Valentina, Svetlana, Katherine, Dorothy, Mary, Sally and Christa all paved the way for women. Women like Samantha Cristoforetti, who, day after day, proves to girls and all of humankind just how much we earthlings can achieve. With hard work and a little luck.
P.S.: If her fascinating story has inspired you to order one of the Samantha Barbies from us, you’ll have to be patient for a few more days. Our buyer has ordered them from Mattel and we’re counting down until they land ...