almost astronauts

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In the early 1960s, as white male fighter pilots were being tested to be astronauts, a small group of women pilots was also put through the same tests. These women got the chance to take the tests because a NASA doctor, Randolph Lovelace, was curious about how women would perform. He theorized that since women tend to be lighter and smaller than men, it might be cheaper to send them into space.

Thirteen women passed the tests, including Jerrie Cobb, a record-breaking pilot and the first woman to go through the grueling tests. Her results were even stronger than the men who were eventually selected to be astronauts. However, these women were not permitted to be astronauts.

President Lyndon Johnson told Jerrie Cobb in 1962: “If we let you or other women into the space program, we’d have to let blacks in. We’d have to let Mexican Americans in, and Chinese Americans. We’d have to let every minority in, and we just can’t do it.” So in other words, although these women had what it took to be astronauts, they were kept out in order to maintain the status quo of privilege for white males.

This is an eye-opening, gripping 130-page book about a group of women who had already broken gender barriers in flight, and who showed they were capable of going into space — but were denied that dream. Interwoven with the women’s stories is the social and political history of the era: how women were portrayed in the media; attitudes towards women pilots; and even the story of one jealous woman pilot who testified before Congress against women in space.

In the course of her research, author Tanya Lee Stone developed personal relationships with the women she was writing about. In fact, she became so involved with this project that she took flying lessons herself. Stone’s passion for her subject really comes through in this book.

Although the “Mercury 13″ women did not have a chance to go into space, their stories inspired women who did — including Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space (from Russia), and Eileen Collins, the first American woman to command a space shuttle.

This is a fantastic book to get girls (and boys) interested in science and flight. You can buy this book from my girls list.