Wo(man) in space…and the Mercury 13 June 21, 2013Posted by WorldbyStorm in Gender Issues, Science.
The news that of eight new astronauts announced in the US, four are women is good on many different levels, not least in that this is the 30th anniversary of the launch into space of the first US female astronaut – Sally Ride.
There’s the thought that, as the Guardian notes, the places these people may go will be truly historic.
…these new candidates would help lead the first human mission to an asteroid in the 2020s, and then Mars, some time in the following decade.
Some may dismiss the importance of this, and yet I think it has an exemplary effect. For every woman astronaut, fast-jet pilot, commercial pilot and so on and so forth it pushes back certain attitudes about supposed limitations on opportunity and ambition for women. Interestingly two of the four appear to have civilian backgrounds.
It brings to mind another piece of hidden history, that of the Mercury 13, thirteen women who underwent much the same physiological testing as the male astronauts who were dubbed the Mercury 7 in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Mercury 13 were part of a privately funded research programme.
Although only one passed the three phases of tests used by NASA…
In the end, thirteen women passed the same Phase I physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed as part of NASA’s astronaut selection process.
Unquestionably more would have passed all the tests had the Navy not withdrawn the use of its facilities to complete them.
As the wiki piece notes, this resulted in a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics to consider the issue of whether and how women were discriminated against on the basis of gender.
That nothing ensued on foot of the Subcommittee hearings is telling, as is the fact that it took until 1983 before the United States would send a woman into space – almost two decades after the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova (for the USSR).
Of course subsequently women have become an integral part of the US space programme (notably only three Russian women cosmonauts have actually made it into space, by contrast only this last month the Chinese launched a male/female crew into orbit) with shuttle Commanders and so on. But, this most recent development feels as if it is a genuine… well… step forward.
By the way, Jerrie Cobb, the woman who passed all three test phases, has had a remarkable career.