"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

I’m currently reading Deke Slayton’s autobiography, he was one of the original Mercury Seven astronauts who was grounded for health reasons but who became the Director of Flight Crew Operations at NASA and who eventually made it into space as the docking module pilot for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. Anyway, that’s by the by.

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


  1. Gary - you're posting such long articles these days it's taking me much longer to get on with my day! I haven't even read yeterday's yet, let alone today's entry. I've also started on a little research project relating to WW1 so what with that, your blog, Neil's blog, Elaine's blog and my new book which arrived today ( yes, I ordered Gene Kranz's "Failure Is Not An Option" book in the end.... )I just don't know what to do first. And that doesn't take into account all the normal, everyday things that need doing, or helping my offspring with their exam revision, although to be fair, they probably wouldn't mind if I didn't bother !!

    There just aren't enough hours in the day. Good thing I don't have a "proper" job....wouldn't have the time!

  2. I'm addicted, what can I say? I’m already looking forward to the next blog and I don’t know what that will be yet. I think you need to prioritise. Obviously read my blog first then do everything else.