"Earth’s distant orb appeared the smallest light that twinkles in the heaven; whilst round the chariot’s way innumerable systems rolled and countless spheres diffused an ever-varying glory. It was a sight of wonder: some were hornèd like the crescent moon; some shed a mild and silver beam like Hesperus o'er the western sea; some dashed athwart with trains of flame, like worlds to death and ruin driven; some shone like suns, and as the chariot passed, eclipsed all other light." From "Queen Mab" by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1813)
Friday, 26 March 2010
The Mercury 13
After doing my belated Ada Lovelace Day blog about Valentina Tereshkova yesterday, last night I got to the chapter in Slayton’s autobiography where he talks about her spaceflight. The coincidence continues. One of the results of her flight was some small pressure for NASA to have a woman astronaut. Thirteen women had taken and passed the same medical tests that the male astronauts had undertaken and where did they do this? At the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research. However, this foundation was not named after our beloved Ada, this was the clinic of Dr. William Randolph "Randy" Lovelace II, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Dr. Lovelace was head of NASA’s Special Committee on Bioastronautics.
In 1960, he and Brigadier General Donald Flickinger put award-winning civilian aviator Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb through the same physical and psychological testing regimen that Lovelace’s Foundation had developed to help select NASA’s first astronauts. This was done privately and was not part of NASA’s astronaut programme.
After Cobb passed the tests a number of other women went through the same evaluation programme. Together with Cobb, these women got the unofficial title of the Mercury Thirteen, after their male Mercury Seven counterparts. The trouble was that NASA had very strict criteria for selecting astronauts, at first just picking test pilots and as women weren’t allowed to be test pilots in the US at that time, quelle surprise, they just weren’t in the running. You can read more about this at http://history.nasa.gov/flats.html and there are a number of books on the subject. I haven’t read them yet myself, they’re now on my ever growing space race book list, but here are just two of them you might want to consider reading.
“The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight” by Martha Ackmann
“Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream” by Tanya Lee Stone