WASHINGTON (AP) _ Before there was Sally Ride, there was Barbie.
Some feminists may sneer, but little girls were clamoring for "Miss Astronaut" Barbie _ clad in a pearl gray space suit adorned with tiny black zippers _ years before the U.S. space program took the idea of women astronauts seriously.
Mattel Inc.'s "Miss Astronaut" Barbie was introduced in 1965, 18 years before Ride, NASA's first female astronaut, went into orbit in 1983. The first space Barbie will make a reappearance in Washington this summer.
Barbie's entire career in flight _ from American Airlines stewardess in 1961 to Space Shuttle crew member in 1994 _ will be explored in an exhibit scheduled to begin June 9 at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum.
The dolls, some donated by Mattel, also will reflect how women's careers have changed since 1959, when Barbie was born as fully grown woman _ sophisticated, fashion-smart and buxom, with an implausibly small waist.
"The display itself is directed toward children. But if you wanted to look at it on kind of a higher intellectual level, you can see reflected in the chronology of the costumes of the dolls some of the changing roles of women in aviation and space flight," said Mary S. Henderson, who heads the museum's popular culture department.
The dolls in the exhibit represent only a fraction of the thousands of careers Barbie has had. Mattel has sold 900 million Barbies, Kens, Midges and other Barbie personalities since the late 1950s _ 3.4 dolls for every man, woman and child in the United States today.
If they were to organize and form their own government, they would be citizens of the third largest nation on earth, after China and India.
The earliest Barbie planned for the exhibit is a doll dressed in a tight, deep blue American Airlines stewardess uniform. She came out in 1961, when being a stewardess was considered as glamorous and exotic as being a fashion model.
Barbie's boyfriend, Ken, was the pilot.
"In the '60s and '70s, Barbie is the flight attendant and Ken is the commercial airline pilot and the air force officer," Henderson said. "Then in the 90's ... Ken and Barbie both assume equal roles. Ken and Barbie are both flight attendants. Ken and Barbie are both commercial airline pilots. Ken and Barbie are both air force officers."
The exception was 1965's "Miss Astronaut" Barbie. At the time, Mattel didn't know whether or how soon women would make it into space, said Lisa McKendall, Mattel marketing manager.
"That was not a typical career for women, but there was at that time in America a phenomenal interest in the space program, so Barbie reflected that," McKendall said.
"We try to have Barbie reflect whatever is interesting in the world or whatever is going on in the world. And so you can see Barbie's careers changing, even in her flight careers, as societal changes happen," she said. "As women's roles change, so does Barbie."
The next space-related Barbie came out in 1985. This time, black "Astronaut Barbie" dolls could be found alongside white ones in stores.
Barbie also had a flashier outfit _ a silver and florescent magenta space suit.
"The '80s were the time of a lot of big hit science fiction fantasy movies," Henderson said. "There was Star Wars, which brought about the revolution in science fiction films ... and so, the astronaut Barbie of the mid-80s was in a very fantasy costume, very science fiction-looking costume."
In 1990, "Flight Time Barbie" and "Flight Time Ken" came out, and for the first time, their clothes allowed either to serve as a pilot or a flight attendant.
Mattel saluted Operation Desert Storm veterans with "Army Barbie and Ken," dolls representing the 101st Airborne Division. And last year, another version of "Astronaut Barbie" came out, with a white suit copied from the ones worn by NASA's Space Shuttle crews.
Henderson wants the exhibit to be fun and appealing for children, so no dull historical or sociological analysis is planned.
"There is going to be one main label, which, in very simple form, just basically says, `Here are the changing roles of women in aviation and space flight,'" she said.
"What we would hope would happen is that the parents would read the label and the children would look at the dolls and then the parents and children would talk about what they had seen and the parents could provide some interpretation to the children."