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Space soon to have most women ever

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. —Space is about to have a female population explosion. One woman already is circling Earth in a Russian capsule, bound for the International Space Station. Early Monday morning, NASA will attempt to launch three more women to the orbiting outpost — along with four men — aboard shuttle Discovery.

It will be the most women in space at the same time.

Men still will outnumber the women by more than 2 to 1 aboard the shuttle and station, but that won't take away from the remarkable achievement, coming 27 years after America's first female astronaut, Sally Ride, rocketed into space.

A former schoolteacher, Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, is among the four female astronauts about to make history, as well as a chemist who once worked as an electrician, and two aerospace engineers. Three are American; one is Japanese.

Indeed, the head of NASA's space operations was unaware of the imminent women-in-space record until a reporter brought it up last week.

"Maybe that's a credit to the system, right? That I don't think of it as male or female," said space operations chief Bill Gerstenmaier. "I just think of it as a talented group of people going to do their job in space."

Discovery's crew of seven will spend 13 days in space, hauling up big spare parts, experiments and other supplies to the nearly completed space station. It's one of four shuttle flights remaining. Monday's liftoff time is 5:21 a.m. CDT.

Metcalf-Lindenburger and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, both rookies, will become the 53rd and 54th women to fly in space.

"I'd love to have those numbers be higher," said astronaut Stephanie Wilson, 43, who will be making her third shuttle flight. "But I think that we have made a great start and have paved the way with women now being able to perform the same duties as men in spaceflight."

Wilson became the second black woman in space in 2006; one other has since followed her.

Yamazaki will become the second Japanese woman to fly in space. Chiaki Mukai was the first in 1994.

Rounding out the foursome will be Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who was launched aboard a Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan on Friday with two Russian men. They will arrive Sunday and settle in for a six-month stay.

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