Lori Wyer’s WS320 Blog

What Happened to the Women-in-Space Program?

In September, 1961, the additional twelve women were slated to travel to a Naval facility in Pensacola, Florida to complete additional phases of testing.  Jerrie Cobb had already passed this testing as well, which had prompted Lovelace to initiate testing for the others.  Shortly before their departure, however, they were notified that testing was cancelled.  They were not given any reason why, nor were they told if the testing would be rescheduled.

As it would turn out, Randy Lovelace had initiated this testing as a personal project through the Lovelace Foundation, not in his official capacity at NASA.  He had no authority or permission to do so.  The Lovelace Foundation had paid for all expenses, nothing was supported by NASA.  It was Lovelace’s hope that his intuition about the capabilities of these women would be correct and that he’d be able to influence NASA to utilize the resources he had found in these remarkable women.  Unfortunately, it didn’t work that way.

It’s not as if NASA didn’t know that Lovelace had tested Jerrie.  When Jerrie had completed all phases of her testing, she was constantly in contact with NASA and inquiring when they would implement women into their space programs.  She was, in fact, a NASA Consultant for women in space.  NASA gave her this job as a way of placating her.  There was never any intention of putting her in space.

Lovelace’s intentions were genuine.  He truly wanted to see women as part of the space program and believed that the program would benefit from the women’s contributions.  Unfortunately, the big wigs at NASA didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on the subject.  He truly believed that he would be able to convince NASA otherwise.  But when he was denied by NASA, he virtually gave up the fight.  He wasn’t willing to jeopardize his job with NASA.

NASA’s way of getting out of having to include women in their space program was that they required the astronauts to be jet test pilots.  Jet test pilots, however, were only in the military.  The military did not allow women to fly jets.  And so was their rational for prohibiting women.  This requirement automatically eliminated women and was NASA’s excuse for their discrimination of women.

Jerrie Cobb took it upon herself to lobby the “powers that be” in Washington on behalf of the Mercury 13 and Women-in-Space Program.  As success eluded her, she enlisted the help of fellow Mercury 13 Janey Hart.  Together, they were able to arrange a special hearing of a subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics (otherwise known as the Space Committee).  This meeting was set with the intentions of determining qualifications for the “selection of astronauts” (Nolen pg 221).  The hearing convened on July 17, 1962 with a committee of twelve; ten men and two women.

Ultimately, though, the hearing did not prove to be beneficial.  NASA officials were also given the opportunity to testify.  Their final, official stance was that they did not oppose the possibility of women becoming part of the space program, if they were test pilots.  However, at the present time, their program was full and any addition to the program would interfere with projects currently in progress.  But they were optimistic that women would have the opportunity to be part of the space program in the future.

It would be sixteen years later, in 1978, before NASA selected six women to be part of their space program.  But it wasn’t until 1983 that American Astronaut Sally Ride went on her first mission in the space shuttle Challenger.  This came almost twenty years after the Soviets sent their first female astronaut into space.

The Early Years

Jerrie the Astronaut

What Happened to the Women-in-Space Program?

Awards and Honors

Trends

Technology at the Time

Jerrie Now

Conclusion

Bibliography

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