counter create hit The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight - Download Free eBook
Ads Banner
Hot Best Seller

The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

Availability: Ready to download

For readers of The Astronaut Wives Club, The Mercury 13 reveals the little-known true story of the remarkable women who trained for NASA space flight. In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Fo For readers of The Astronaut Wives Club, The Mercury 13 reveals the little-known true story of the remarkable women who trained for NASA space flight. In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Foundation as did the Mercury 7 astronauts, but they were summarily dismissed by the boys’ club at NASA and on Capitol Hill. The USSR sent its first woman into space in 1963; the United States did not follow suit for another twenty years. For the first time, Martha Ackmann tells the story of the dramatic events surrounding these thirteen remarkable women, all crackerjack pilots and patriots who sometimes sacrificed jobs and marriages for a chance to participate in America’s space race against the Soviet Union. In addition to talking extensively to these women, Ackmann interviewed Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and others at NASA and in the White House with firsthand knowledge of the program, and includes here never-before-seen photographs of the Mercury 13 passing their Lovelace tests. Despite the crushing disappointment of watching their dreams being derailed, the Mercury 13 went on to extraordinary achievement in their lives: Jerrie Cobb, who began flying when she was so small she had to sit on pillows to see out of the cockpit, dedicated her life to flying solo missions to the Amazon rain forest; Wally Funk, who talked her way into the Lovelace trials, went on to become one of the first female FAA investigators; Janey Hart, mother of eight and, at age forty, the oldest astronaut candidate, had the political savvy to steer the women through congressional hearings and later helped found the National Organization for Women. A provocative tribute to these extraordinary women, The Mercury 13 is an unforgettable story of determination, resilience, and inextinguishable hope. From the Hardcover edition.


Compare
Ads Banner

For readers of The Astronaut Wives Club, The Mercury 13 reveals the little-known true story of the remarkable women who trained for NASA space flight. In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Fo For readers of The Astronaut Wives Club, The Mercury 13 reveals the little-known true story of the remarkable women who trained for NASA space flight. In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Foundation as did the Mercury 7 astronauts, but they were summarily dismissed by the boys’ club at NASA and on Capitol Hill. The USSR sent its first woman into space in 1963; the United States did not follow suit for another twenty years. For the first time, Martha Ackmann tells the story of the dramatic events surrounding these thirteen remarkable women, all crackerjack pilots and patriots who sometimes sacrificed jobs and marriages for a chance to participate in America’s space race against the Soviet Union. In addition to talking extensively to these women, Ackmann interviewed Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and others at NASA and in the White House with firsthand knowledge of the program, and includes here never-before-seen photographs of the Mercury 13 passing their Lovelace tests. Despite the crushing disappointment of watching their dreams being derailed, the Mercury 13 went on to extraordinary achievement in their lives: Jerrie Cobb, who began flying when she was so small she had to sit on pillows to see out of the cockpit, dedicated her life to flying solo missions to the Amazon rain forest; Wally Funk, who talked her way into the Lovelace trials, went on to become one of the first female FAA investigators; Janey Hart, mother of eight and, at age forty, the oldest astronaut candidate, had the political savvy to steer the women through congressional hearings and later helped found the National Organization for Women. A provocative tribute to these extraordinary women, The Mercury 13 is an unforgettable story of determination, resilience, and inextinguishable hope. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

  1. 5 out of 5

    J.M. Hushour

    "Dicks in tin cans" was how one wag described the early decades of NASA. Okay, I just made that up. But have you ever wondered why there wasn't a female American astronaut until Sally Ride's ride in 1983, a full twenty years after the Soviets sent up an amateur parachutist with no flight experience whatsoever? Was it because American women were sorely lacking in experience, too? No. There were tons of badass women flying around all over the place. Was it because they just weren't up to the trainin "Dicks in tin cans" was how one wag described the early decades of NASA. Okay, I just made that up. But have you ever wondered why there wasn't a female American astronaut until Sally Ride's ride in 1983, a full twenty years after the Soviets sent up an amateur parachutist with no flight experience whatsoever? Was it because American women were sorely lacking in experience, too? No. There were tons of badass women flying around all over the place. Was it because they just weren't up to the training physically? No. The women discussed here all passed, with some exceeding...let's write that a little bigger...EXCEEDING their dick-having counterparts. Trouble was, NASA would conveniently only take test pilots and women (because America is actually not as perfect as you think it is) couldn't be test pilots. Well, there was one. And she's the villain of this amazing story! The book centers on Jerrie Cobb, aviator and badass extraordinaire and the tests she and other female pilots did in New Mexico to prove they were up for being trained as astronauts, too, despite their lack of dicks. (Interesting sidenote: the phrase "bag of dicks" originated with an episode in which the Mercury 13 stormed NASA headquarters slinging potato sacks full of sausages at the glass doors. Okay, I made that up, too). The story doesn't end well (see above) and we all know it. But it's great to read about how close they came and how they launched the drive that eventually led to women going into space. There is villainy, too, in the form of other famed aviator Jackie Cochrane, who, perhaps out of sheer jealousy scuttled the whole enterprise because she wasn't consulted. Whatever. Why this isn't a movie or miniseries is beyond me.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Aletha

    Probably the most heart breaking and depressing book I have ever read. I was either in tears, totally depressed, frustrated or enraged every chapter. That being said, I think it's a must read. People who advocated for women to have the same opportunities as men should not be forgotten. I had no idea about the Mercury 13 before I read this book. There were so many amazing women to read about. The emotional distress was worth it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    Infuriating. And sadly, no surprise that the nail in the program’s coffin was a woman, expert at undermining other women while promoting herself to men. A scene that repeats itself on scales large and small. Also, f#ck you, von Braun.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Peter Tillman

    The book is awkwardly written and overlong, but makes its point: women were fine aviators from the start, were the equals (if not superior) to the men NASA picked for the first astronauts, and were pushed back by plain, blatant sexism. 3+ stars. There was more going on than this: the US was feeling the pressure of being #2 in the space race, what with Sputnik, lofted into orbit by a repurposed ICBM launcher, and Yuri Gagarin, orbiting the Earth a few years later. So expedience led the new NASA to The book is awkwardly written and overlong, but makes its point: women were fine aviators from the start, were the equals (if not superior) to the men NASA picked for the first astronauts, and were pushed back by plain, blatant sexism. 3+ stars. There was more going on than this: the US was feeling the pressure of being #2 in the space race, what with Sputnik, lofted into orbit by a repurposed ICBM launcher, and Yuri Gagarin, orbiting the Earth a few years later. So expedience led the new NASA to pick experienced military test pilots as the first astronauts, and that was a defensible choice, given the politics of the time. But they didn't need to be such dicks about it, or take 20 years to send the first American woman (Sally Ride) into space. And here’s Wernher von Braun, on women in space: “We’re reserving 110 pounds of payload for recreational equipment.” A memorable moment: The Mercury 7 watching an Atlas launch, their ride-to-be. It blows up. A sobering moment. I read this at the recommendation of the Mary Robinette Kowal, whose new novel "The Calculating Stars" opens with the destruction of Washington DC by a giant meteor, circa 1963. Let's hope Wernher von Braun was in town. Here she is: https://whatever.scalzi.com/2018/07/0... You really should read her comments.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lizabeth Tucker

    Back when the American Space Program was just beginning, a few farsighted men began testing women pilots for possible astronaut positions. One of the first chosen for testing was Jerrie Cobb, an Oklahoman who held various world records as a pilot. Other women who made the initial cut included: Jan & Marion Dietrich - identical twins from California Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk - the baby at 22, from Taos Bernice "B" Steadman - flight operation owner from Michigan Jean Hixson - Air Forces Reserves offic Back when the American Space Program was just beginning, a few farsighted men began testing women pilots for possible astronaut positions. One of the first chosen for testing was Jerrie Cobb, an Oklahoman who held various world records as a pilot. Other women who made the initial cut included: Jan & Marion Dietrich - identical twins from California Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk - the baby at 22, from Taos Bernice "B" Steadman - flight operation owner from Michigan Jean Hixson - Air Forces Reserves officer from Akron, Ohio Myrtle Cagle - Georgia flight instructor Sarah Gorelick - engineer in Kansas City Rhea Hurrle - executive pilot from Houston Irene Leverton - forest service pilot from Chicago Gene Nora Stumbough - University of Oklahoma aviation instructor Geraldine "Jerri" Sloan - Dallas air-race competitor Jane "Janey" Hart - U.S. Senator's wife from Michigan Unfortunately, these progressive men and adventurous women were up against a cultural and military mindset that not only couldn't, but wouldn't entertain the idea that women should go into space. In addition, aviation pioneer Jackie Cochran was actively trying to stop Cobb from being successful, either as a potential astronaut or as unofficial spokeswoman for the group. Although the House agreed to hold hearings regarding the possible discrimation of women in the Program, they were a joke. With one member disliked by his fellow politicians, a newbie woman who was only there to fill her deceased husband's spot, and others who still didn't understand how women could possibly do the job without help, there wasn't a real effort to do more than try and save face with the world. The comments from those in a position of power within the program ranged from condescending to insulting to vulgar. Von Braun supposedly quoted another high ranking scientist when he referred to women as recreational equipment. NASA itself over the years tried to deny their very existence. It was almost 20 years later that the first American woman, Sally Ride, went into space. Longer until a woman, Eileen Collins, was the pilot of the shuttle. Even today, some still question a woman's fitness in holding such an important position. As a child of the program whose father worked from pre-Mercury to Apollo 12, I can remember rumors of women being tested for the position of astronaut, but that was all it was - rumors. The newspapers of my area didn't carry much about this women, so I was surprised and astounded by what this book revealed. I had met some of the people discussed in this book and, frankly, wasn't too surprised at their attitudes. I might have been very young, but I was a space supporter who had a strong interest in science. I shot my own rockets off with a group of boys who also looked to the stars. During the various visits to Cape Canaveral (later called Kennedy Space Center) during employee days as well as the infamous Cape parties, I watched and listened to the men who spoke of their jobs. Men. The few women I met who worked at the Cape were secretaries and clerks. I never actually met one of the few women engineers. They were rarely invited to the parties that these men would have every few months. I found this book interesting, both from an insider and outsider viewpoint. If you want to know more about what it was like for the women who aspired to the stars, try this book as a start. Then go on to the Notes section and jot down the names of the various biographies and autobiographies of these remarkable women.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Catherine Edmundson

    Amazing story about amazing, trailblazing women. Makes me somewhat ashamed for how little I pushed myself throughout my working life. I could have done more to make the working world a better place. However, this book did inspire me to figure out how to better use my retirement time to make more of a positive impact on the lives of others.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    When the Soviets launched Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, "Celebrated writer Clare Boothe Luce wrote a scathing article in Life magazine, reminding readers that a year earlier, thirteen American women had asked Congress to send an American woman into space. Where are those thirteen women now? Luce asked. 'The U.S. Team Is Still Warming Up the Bench' the Life headline answered. Luce called the missed opportunity a costly Cold War blunder and excoriated American men for their sexist views When the Soviets launched Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, "Celebrated writer Clare Boothe Luce wrote a scathing article in Life magazine, reminding readers that a year earlier, thirteen American women had asked Congress to send an American woman into space. Where are those thirteen women now? Luce asked. 'The U.S. Team Is Still Warming Up the Bench' the Life headline answered. Luce called the missed opportunity a costly Cold War blunder and excoriated American men for their sexist views of women." And, the women warmed the bench for another 20 years until Sally Ride finally went up in 1983. This book outlines the forgotten story of how 13 women passed similar tests that the first astronauts went through (Mercury 7), readying for a chance to be among the first to explore space. Some scientists hypothesized that women might be even more suitable for space exploration for various reasons (weight, size, ability to function in isolated environments and perform repetitive tasks were some factors), and they wanted to gather data on women and get them into space, but most would not even consider the prospect...certainly not NASA, the Presidential administration, Congress, nor the military due to systematic discrimination and blatant sexism. These women though, were trailblazers, and their story should be told. Here's another favorite quote included in the book. This was written from one sister to another who were both asked to be test volunteers: "Your hesitating to go to Lovelace [the scientist in charge of the testing] absolutely shocks me," she declared. "Jan, we are poised on the edge of the most exciting and important adventure man has ever known. Most must watch. A few are privileged to record. Only a handful may participate and feel above all others attuned with their time. To take part in this adventure, no matter how small, I consider the most important thing we have ever done. To be ASKED to participate, the greatest honor. To accept, an absolute duty. So, go Jan go. And take your part, even as a statistic, in man's great adventure." And it was MAN'S great adventure, for many long years.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Carrie

    "Discrimination has nothing to do with chivalry." Ruth Nichols, pilot, contemporary and friendly rival of Amelia Earhart

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I want to thank the Mercury 13 for proving that women are capable and can do anything they put their minds to do.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Stoolfire

    Depressing and absolutely infuriating, but a must-read if you're interested in the history of women in space, NASA, and aviation. You know this doesn't end well, but it shows just how strong these badass ladies of the Mercury 13 were and how they helped pave the way for the Sally Ride and all women involved in the space program today.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stacy

    I've heard of Sally Ride. Eileen Collins. Judith Resnik. Shannon Lucid. Before this book, I had never heard of Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Sloan, B Steadman, Wally Funk, or any other of the 13 women pilots who left their homes, jobs, and families to test for a chance to go into space in the early 1960s. They faced an immense lack of support and a large amount of sexism. Their contributions paved the way for the ladies that I first listed, to finally go into space 20 years later. It was maddening to me th I've heard of Sally Ride. Eileen Collins. Judith Resnik. Shannon Lucid. Before this book, I had never heard of Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Sloan, B Steadman, Wally Funk, or any other of the 13 women pilots who left their homes, jobs, and families to test for a chance to go into space in the early 1960s. They faced an immense lack of support and a large amount of sexism. Their contributions paved the way for the ladies that I first listed, to finally go into space 20 years later. It was maddening to me that one of the biggest obstacles was another woman who wanted to use her husband's wealth to control all of the decisions and bask in the publicity of her piloting. She did not want any of the 13 to eclipse her accomplishments. Just recently, a woman was unable to execute a spacewalk because there wasn't a uniform that fit her. So this book is actually quite timely, and shows that there is still a lot of room for improvement. "In a way, the Air Force response sounded like a 'wife joke' offered up by some tired comedian on the Ed Sullivan show. 'Why couldn't women be astronauts? Because they had nothing to wear.'" This was an interesting look into a history largely unknown to me. Thank you, Mercury 13!

  12. 5 out of 5

    J.

    Came as a recommendation of Kelly Sue DeConnick, and it did not disappoint. What a fantastic read! Powerful story, and I like that Ackmann focused in on Jerrie Cobb to give us a focal point to move through the history. Jackie Cochran does not come off looking too good, here, though, so be warned: if you go into this book as a fan of Cochran's, I doubt you're going to like her much coming out of it. Fantastic photographic section. I love that the prologue/epilogue work hard to contextualize the s Came as a recommendation of Kelly Sue DeConnick, and it did not disappoint. What a fantastic read! Powerful story, and I like that Ackmann focused in on Jerrie Cobb to give us a focal point to move through the history. Jackie Cochran does not come off looking too good, here, though, so be warned: if you go into this book as a fan of Cochran's, I doubt you're going to like her much coming out of it. Fantastic photographic section. I love that the prologue/epilogue work hard to contextualize the story with more contemporary history (Eileen Collins' story). HIGHLY recommended.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    Being a NASA-nerd girl, I can't believe that I never heard this story. But, then again, everything I know comes from a man's perspective. A sad story that, unfortunately, was reflective of the time. I enjoyed the book but felt that the middle pages were a bit long and detailed, gleaning most of the story from the first 2 and last 2 chapters.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cindy Marcusen

    I truly enjoyed this book. It was very inspiring to me. I was a child during the Space Race and was inspired to become a scientist. I understand the prejudice against women in science and math. Women like these helped those of us who came after. I rated it 4 star because it seemed to focus on 2 of the women more than the others. But I understand why. These two made for a good plot of confliction. By the end I really could not understand why Cocherine was so against women moving forward other tha I truly enjoyed this book. It was very inspiring to me. I was a child during the Space Race and was inspired to become a scientist. I understand the prejudice against women in science and math. Women like these helped those of us who came after. I rated it 4 star because it seemed to focus on 2 of the women more than the others. But I understand why. These two made for a good plot of confliction. By the end I really could not understand why Cocherine was so against women moving forward other than she was jealous and wanted the opportunity and knew she could not have it because of age. This book shows the dichotomy between "Failure is not an Option". In that book, Webb says they had no discrimination, there just weren't any females or people of color available for the work. There were and they applied and were turned away. If a woman was hired she was not paid as well. She was given lesser duties etc. (This is from a woman who has experienced this; who was told to make the coffee for the office because I was the woman even though I had never made it in my life! I was told I didn't make as much because I wasn't supporting a family like the men. Really? Who do they think was supporting my family?)

  15. 5 out of 5

    Faith Justice

    Excellent. Fascinating history. Review to come.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Meg Marie

    An amazing group of women who deserved to have their stories told. The rampant sexism, misogyny and racist of the time made my feminist blood boil like the heat shield had failed on re-entry.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sally Peters

    Fascinating true story about women who wanted to take part in the nation's space race to the moon. It is very appropriate for reading in this 50th anniversary year of the first moon landing. It is also eye opening regarding the place of women in that time and place.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ellen

    A must read for fans of the space program,those interested in the 50s-60s, and anyone interested in women's rights.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    Martha Ackmann's book tells the virtually unknown story of thirteen women pilots who did everything in their power to prove that women were as capable of space flight as men, at a time when women were not even allowed to fly jet airplanes. That these ladies faced an uphill battle would be putting it mildly. Societal norms of the late 1950s/early 1960s dictated that women should be homemakers. Simply becoming pilots with thousands of hours of flying time, numerous world records for distance and s Martha Ackmann's book tells the virtually unknown story of thirteen women pilots who did everything in their power to prove that women were as capable of space flight as men, at a time when women were not even allowed to fly jet airplanes. That these ladies faced an uphill battle would be putting it mildly. Societal norms of the late 1950s/early 1960s dictated that women should be homemakers. Simply becoming pilots with thousands of hours of flying time, numerous world records for distance and speed, and a wealth of knowledge about the mechanics of flight, was a huge accomplishment. But these women wanted more. And they went after it with a vengeance. This book fills a gap in the history of space flight and the U.S. astronaut training program. The writing tends toward a mix of textbook and journalistic styles. The first few chapters, in particular, present a great deal of background information to help orient the reader. This can be a little hard to follow, but is definitely worth wading through. The ladies' personalities eventually shine out, and I found myself rooting hard for them, even knowing that none would be making it into space. I would like to have seen more focus on the individual women's stories to counterbalance the details of the actual testing and the convoluted power struggles. Politics ultimately resulted in the women's program being terminated, despite the Mercury 13's incredible test results (some exceeded the men). It was another twenty years before the U.S. put a woman into space. As an avid fan of aeronautics, I enjoyed this book very much. As a woman, I was shocked to learn the real history of the space program, and awed by the determination of these women. Their dedication to astronaut training opened the door for women pilots everywhere. Martha Ackmann has given us a glimpse of the hard reality the Mercury 13 faced, as well as showing us their strength and grace under pressure.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    In The Mercury 13, Ackmann took what would have otherwise been an inspiring book about thirteen women's struggle to gain entry into the new United State's space program and managed to turn it into a platform to push feminist dogma. I almost put the book down during the first few chapters after repeated jabs at the NASA leadership for daring to put winning a war with Russia above women's equality. That is really the crux of this book; Ackmann believes it should have been more important to ensure In The Mercury 13, Ackmann took what would have otherwise been an inspiring book about thirteen women's struggle to gain entry into the new United State's space program and managed to turn it into a platform to push feminist dogma. I almost put the book down during the first few chapters after repeated jabs at the NASA leadership for daring to put winning a war with Russia above women's equality. That is really the crux of this book; Ackmann believes it should have been more important to ensure women's equality in the space program than to win the space race. In typical feminist fashion, Ackmann is adamant that a woman is equal to a man in all things - then considers it a high achievement when Cobb or one of the other Mercury 13 women completes a test that was designed for men. Excuse me, but if a woman is the equal of a man than the standard should be identical and the resulting scores comparable with no cause for rejoicing when a woman scores the same as a man. Conveniently, in spite of Ackmann's repeated claims that the "Mercury 13" passed all the tests the Project Mercury astronauts had passed with "flying colors," there is almost no objective data to show how they actually stacked up to the males who were selected. It is easier to vilify the government's choices to use (male) military test pilots as their first pool for astronaut selection as discriminatory when the cold, hard data is conveniently not presented. I present two examples of this lack of data. First, was the discussion of Funk's claim that she beat Glenn's score on the stationary bike. There was a link to additional data in the endnotes and I thought I was going to get to read actual test results. Instead, there was only limited data - in all fairness proving that Funk came nowhere close to Glenn's results - and between the endnotes and the data in chapter six all we are given is a listing of the order of the top three women with no data to tell us how they compared to the men. In chapter eight, while explaining Cobb's completion of the physical fitness tests at Pensacola much is made of her being required to scale a six foot, six inch wall even thought she was shorter than the average man. So what? Pushing this as some sort of achievement both ignores the fact that over 20% of men are Cobb's height or shorter and demonstrates once again that Ackmann is simply pushing her feminist agenda that a woman is the equal to a man; until it is clear that there are obvious differences between women and men and then there must be a separate, lower, standard for women. There is much made in the book of the difficulties the women encountered in receiving time off work, finding caretakers for their children while they were gone, and affording to attend the testing. Ironically, Ackmann has nothing good to say about Eisenhower's decision to use military test pilots as the pool to select the Project Mercury astronauts, even though it is obvious that the choice to limit prospective candidates to male military pilots eliminated all of the conflicts these women experienced. She even goes so far as to accuse Eisenhower of potentially compromising the "fundamental principles of democracy!" Again, Ackmann would rather have seen NASA delayed in their selection of astronauts with the potential that Russia win the space race and the Cold War, so long as the selection process met her standard of equality and fairness. Another topic brought up ad nauseam was women's lighter weight which would require less fuel, less food, and less oxygen for accomplishment of a space mission. While all of that is true it is a pointless argument. It is obvious that NASA did not make weight a primary requirement for inclusion in the space program. If they wanted light astronauts they would have set a very low weight threshold. Instead, their primary criteria were for health, intelligence, and fitness. We are made well aware throughout the book that the Mercury 13 were smaller than their male counterparts but, as mentioned above, there is no data given other than subjective and unsubstantiated claims that the women "aced" the tests or passed with "flying colors" to tell us how they performed on the tests that NASA actually considered consequential. Something completely ignored by Ackmann was the critical psycho-social element in selection of astronauts. NASA selected the seven members of Project Mercury from a pool of eighteen highly qualified finalists based on their personality traits and how they would interact with their fellow astronauts, not solely their physical achievements or psychological exam results. Ironically, Ackmann's poster child for the Mercury 13, Cobb, was commented on throughout the book as being a loner, anti-social, and socially awkward. Cobb was not an academic and "took to skipping school for weeks at a time." The Mercury Project astronauts were completely immersed in studying for months at a time in preparation for the first space missions. Ackmann remarks on the end of Cobb's relationship with Ford, "Cobb loved flight and solitude more." When discussing Ford's death in a plane crash Ackmann states, "Flight magazine later wrote, that he became 'out of place and impractical anywhere but in the air.' The passage could have been describing Cobb." Where in that isolationism are we expected to believe Cobb would have been a great teammate during a lengthy space mission in a very confined environment with her fellow astronauts? Sadly, Ackmann's feminism overshadows what is otherwise a fantastic book. Her push to show discrimination by Eisenhower and NASA for choosing test pilots as their selection pool when the Mercury Program was first begun overshadows the demonstrable discrimination in NASA and the government's lack of cooperation to continue testing of women for potential inclusion in the space program. Her focus on how the women of the Mercury 13 were discriminated against ensures the women are turned into flat characters with every part of their lives being related to how they were discriminate against in aviation because of their gender. Women today are finally breaking through the gender barriers that have held them back and it is high time they be recognized for their struggle, however, using their story to push a feminist agenda and make poorly argued points about gender discrimination is not the way to honor them or their legacy. This book could have been written so differently and could have communicated the same story, even the same message of discrimination, without subjugating the story of the Mercury 13 to the author's agenda.

  21. 4 out of 5

    AJ

    Very interesting look into many women who wanted to be astronauts in a time when institutional sexism made it impossible. It amazes me how much and how little has changed since then. I still hear people say there is no longer any sexism in the sciences, when I deal with it all the time.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Fascinating. I had no idea there were so many accomplished women pilots in the fifties and sixties. Also, this reaffirmed my belief that women who refuse to help others in order to be the "best" woman are horrible people.

  23. 5 out of 5

    David Glenn Dixon

    Washington City Paper Arts & Entertainment : Book Review Mercury Blues By Glenn Dixon • September 12, 2003 Wander around the Kennedy Space Center for a while. Check out the shiny metal suits worn by the first astronauts. Try to cram yourself into the actual-size mockups of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules. It doesn't take long for the truth to sink in: Space was conquered by short people. Five-eleven was the vertical limit for the earliest round of rocket jockeys, dubbed the Mercury 7—group Washington City Paper Arts & Entertainment : Book Review Mercury Blues By Glenn Dixon • September 12, 2003 Wander around the Kennedy Space Center for a while. Check out the shiny metal suits worn by the first astronauts. Try to cram yourself into the actual-size mockups of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules. It doesn't take long for the truth to sink in: Space was conquered by short people. Five-eleven was the vertical limit for the earliest round of rocket jockeys, dubbed the Mercury 7—group photos of Eisenhower's anointed show Gus Grissom looking as though he'd just taken the third race at Pimlico. Smaller meant lighter, of course, and engineers emphasized the burden placed on their systems by every extra pound. But the most significant weight-saving measure was never seriously considered. When NASA set up its cosmic cowboy clubhouse, the sign outside was plain as day: No girls allowed. The story of the female pilots who yearned for a chance to shoot for the stars has remained largely a space-race footnote, barely acknowledged by NASA and little known outside aviation circles. In her exhaustively researched yet thoroughly readable history "The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight," Mount Holyoke women's-studies prof Martha Ackmann sheds light on this unfortunate chapter in the annals of the American century, as well as on the determination of the women who challenged a society dead set on keeping them grounded. The story begins in 1959 at the Lovelace Foundation, a medical center in Albuquerque, N.M., that was often contracted by the government to conduct secret research. One of its assignments had been the physical testing of the male Project Mercury hopefuls. Scientific curiosity and fear of Soviet advances motivated foundation head Randy Lovelace and Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Flickinger to look into the qualifications of women for spaceflight. An Air Force Association meeting put them in touch with 28-year-old Jerrie Cobb, an executive pilot and marketing manager with Oklahoma City-based Aero Design and Engineering. The men knew NASA wasn't interested in women candidates—Flickinger had already asked. But their plans weren't so easily thwarted. Because the clinic was an independent civilian facility, Lovelace could forge ahead on his own as long as he could find the money. "I continue to have a keen personal interest in [testing women pilots] and believe it eventually should be done on as scientifically sound a basis as possible," Flickinger wrote. Cobb, one of the country's most accomplished female pilots, would prove to be an ideal subject. Taciturn, athletic, difficult to rattle, and lucky enough to work for a boss who supported her ambitions, she checked into the Bird of Paradise, a seedy motel conveniently located across the street from the Lovelace clinic, in February 1960. She received exactly the same scrutiny as the men who had preceded her. There were X-rays, blood work, vision tests, multiple barium enemas, a radiation count at Los Alamos, and an excruciating test of equilibrium that involved dripping cold water directly onto the eardrum. Cobb passed with flying colors. Although turned away by Ohio's Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (where Flickinger had run afoul of his superiors, causing him to turn the testing program entirely over to Lovelace), she was able to receive stress testing at a NASA facility in Cleveland. There she was strapped into a giant gyroscope called the MASTIF. "Even if one had the stomach for carnival Tilt-A-Whirl rides, the MASTIF was in a nausea-producing category all by itself," Ackmann writes. "Project Mercury astronauts 'graduated' from MASTIF testing when they were able to bring the rig under control while doing thirty revolutions per minute on all three axes." After her trials were publicized in Life, Cobb set about assembling a list of candidates who could follow in her wake. Women were almost always denied test-pilot experience, so Cobb looked for racing histories and high flight-hour counts. Drawing on Federal Aviation Administration records and the membership roster of the Ninety-Nines, the international association of aviatrixes started by Amelia Earhart, she forwarded names to Lovelace, who mailed out invitations. Friends recommended friends, and eventually 18 more women would be forced to reckon with the unflushable toilets and unchanged sheets of the Bird of Paradise. The 12 who passed the tests were a varied lot, from headstrong 22-year-old flight instructor Wally Funk to 40-year-old senator's wife and mother of eight Janey Hart. Sarah Gorelick quit her job with AT&T so she could pursue testing. When Jerri Sloan, the 30-year-old proprietor of Air Services of Dallas, which tested next-generation aerial surveillance systems, returned home, her drunkard husband, who had hounded her over the phone while she was away, presented her with divorce papers. NASA wasn't sponsoring the tests, so that role was filled by longtime Lovelace patron Jackie Cochran, the former head of the Women's Airforce Service Pilots, or WASPs, in World War II and arguably the most famous female pilot in the country. Having been born into poverty in Florida and grown up as Bessie Mae Pittman, she relocated to New York, where in a few short years she had moved from working as a beautician at Saks to snagging a wealthy man and flying herself around to promote her own line of cosmetics. Unable to qualify herself for reasons of age and possibly health, she nevertheless saw to it that her husband, industrialist Floyd Odlum, picked up the tab. Although Ackmann well understands Cochran's self-mythologizing bent, she makes her only serious misstep in failing to get to the bottom of the woman's biography. Granted, it's a trying task; the Internet is filled with competing versions. Several correspondents to Florida International University's ALLSTAR Network who claim to be Pittman kin contradict an assertion, accepted by Ackmann, that Cochran was raised by a foster family and possibly never knew her biological parents. What is certain is that Cochran was a conniving, vindictive egomaniac who couldn't stand to be bested. She used her husband's high-society heft and financial leverage over Lovelace to undertake a campaign to wrest leadership of the candidate group from Cobb, on one occasion attempting to get Cobb removed as keynote speaker at a symposium on women in space, a slot Cochran herself had turned down. After one of her own public appearances, Cochran screamed at a member of the 13 offended by her impolitic remarks, "Jerrie Cobb isn't running this program. I am!" Meanwhile, Cobb was entering "Phase Two" of her testing, psychological screening at the Veterans Administration hospital in Oklahoma City. The crucial trial took place in a Lilly isolation tank. (Movie buffs will recognize John C. Lilly as the scientist who inspired both 1973's "The Day of the Dolphin" and 1980's "Altered States.") A driven woman who kept her own counsel and could be acerbic if pushed, Cobb stayed in longer than any other isotank subject before her. Following a nine-hour-and-40-minute run, she was pronounced to be a "girl who excels in loneliness." Little did the assistant who cut short Cobb's test know that teammate Rhea Hurrle would go for 10 hours. Funk would drift still a half-hour more, completely silent. For their test, the Mercury men had merely spent two or three hours in a dark room, where John Glenn occupied his mind by composing inspirational doggerel. The "Phase Three" tests assessed reactions to the rigors of spaceflight. Lovelace arranged for Cobb to undergo 10 days of testing at the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Fla. She completed a pressure-suit mobility test and an airborne EEG. She had a go on the "Dilbert Dunker," which simulated a water-landing escape, and took her turn in the "slow-rotation room," a disorientation chamber in which she was required to resist visual evidence to complete a range of tasks. After Cobb passed, plans were made for the other 12 women to fly to Pensacola in September 1961. It never happened. Less than a week before testing was to begin, following some maneuvering from Cochran, who at that point was insisting that any female astronaut training not interfere with the program that had already launched two men into suborbital flights, NASA shut down the Navy tests. Realizing that scientific evidence didn't count for much in a political fight, Cobb joined forces with Washington insider Hart to lobby for the cause. They found a supporter in the vice president's office: Liz Carpenter, Lyndon Johnson's press representative, drafted a letter for him to send to NASA chief James Webb, urging the space agency to look into the qualifications of female astronauts. A meeting with Johnson was secured for Cobb and Hart, but they sensed that he was putting on a political performance for their benefit. They didn't know that he would scrawl across Carpenter's draft, "Lets Stop This Now!" Cobb and Hart proceeded to bring their case before Congress; they were able to persuade the House Committee on Science and Astronautics to investigate alleged gender discrimination by NASA, presenting their arguments on July 17, 1962. But their efforts were soon undone. Cochran followed them, advising against opening the Air Force Academy to women so that they might acquire the jet training her social connections had already won her—and warning that money spent schooling female astronauts might be wasted when they later chose family over career. It amounted to sabotage. Hart, for one, had received a preview of Cochran's likely testimony and had already drawn her conclusions: "Maybe she just wanted more trophies for the foyer, more headlines and accolades," Ackmann writes. "If Jackie Cochran could not become the first woman in space, perhaps she did not want any other woman to have the chance." The following morning, Earth-orbit vets John Glenn and Scott Carpenter delivered their testimony on the matter. "[C]learly more comfortable commenting on prejudice than actively fighting against it," according to Ackmann, newly minted national hero Glenn attributed the exclusion of women to the current "social order," before concluding with an appeal to thrift: "Now, to spend many millions of dollars to additionally qualify other people, whom we don't particularly need, regardless of sex, creed, or color, doesn't seem right, when we already have these qualified people." Cobb didn't need to read the headlines the next day to know that, three years after she had signed on with Lovelace, her spaceflight dream was a no-go. In less than two years, Glenn would be the first of the Mercury 7 to leave NASA, squandering all that valuable training on a political career he was soon forced to postpone when he slipped and fell in his bathroom. (Ackmann is too fair-minded to point out how Glenn spent the rest of the '60s, but taxpayers should be proud to know that it was as an RC Cola executive.) By late summer 1974, only two of the seven original astronauts remained; the others had been replaced—by newly trained white men. Although every reader knows at the outset that, whatever precedent it set, the women's attempt was doomed, Ackmann finds her way to the complex drama that lies behind their failure. That she is able to weave a captivating story out of events whose highlights are a congressional hearing and multiple rounds of scientific testing is a credit to her narrative skills. Shunning glib group hagiography, she discovers heroes and villains on both sides of the gender divide. In a tale rife with cowardice, bigotry, double-dealing, backbiting, and infighting, she keeps us mindful of the hope that things could've turned out differently. The social order did eventually change, and in 1983 Space Coast well-wishers chanted, "Ride, Sally Ride!" as the space shuttle Challenger carried America's first female astronaut aloft. And in 1999, when Eileen Collins was named commander of the Columbia, a woman finally took the helm of a spaceship. (Collins was quick to acknowledge the importance of her predecessors. "What if they had failed those tests?...They gave us a history," she told Ackmann.) There are plenty of reasons it didn't happen 35 years earlier—but, as Cobb once put it, "none of them legitimate." CP

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kend

    Here's a story for the ages––everything you suspected about the treatment of women in 1960s and 70s America, bundled up with the high drama and national narrative of the Space Race––told in a thoroughly journalistic manner, with footnotes. There are inherent dangers to approaching the story this way, of course: namely, artificially asserted objectivity, as the author embraces here, is a turn-off for many readers, including me. There are moments when the author's personal connections to the story Here's a story for the ages––everything you suspected about the treatment of women in 1960s and 70s America, bundled up with the high drama and national narrative of the Space Race––told in a thoroughly journalistic manner, with footnotes. There are inherent dangers to approaching the story this way, of course: namely, artificially asserted objectivity, as the author embraces here, is a turn-off for many readers, including me. There are moments when the author's personal connections to the story are hinted at, but I find myself frustrated not just by the content (which is incredibly frustrating on its own, as we all know how the story turns out by the time we are half a chapter in) but also by the missed opportunities. As a story, this had a lot of potential. As a book, it's unevenly enforced. The greatest challenge in reading this book is facing the fact that it will deconstruct much of the pleasant mythology we've erected around Space Race-age heroes like John Glenn and Jackie Cochran. Jerrie Cobb and many of the Mercury 13 come off well, but everyone else? John Glenn enabled others in their bad behavior, and spouted some downright condescending lines. Lyndon Johnson? Even worse, as he pretended to be an ally but secretly scuttled the project anyway. The Lovelaces? Didn't stand up for their project, relying on time to smooth the sting to fragile male egos and open up doors later. Jackie Cochran? Sabotaged the women's efforts more than any other person involved, for reasons known only to her. This book is an anthology of the various ways in which men fail women and women fail each other. And that makes this a difficult read, even though we all know that's often the reality of the world. Do I recommend reading this book? Absolutely. If you haven't ever heard of the Mercury 13, this is a definite must-read. It isn't the only perspective worth absorbing, of course, and those intimated connections and inherent biases do mean that there is messaging embedded in the text. It's not that I disagree with it, necessarily (More women! In! Space! More women! In! NASA! More women! In STEM fields!) but I am cautious about passing judgment without reading further texts on the subject. WHICH I WILL BE DOING. Also, I think this could have been a fascinating book if it had been written Rebecca Skloot-style. It wasn't ... but then, life isn't perfect, I guess.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This book was informative, infuriating, and heart-breaking. I didn't know anything about the Mercury 13, so I'm glad that Ackmann wrote their stories in this book and did it so well. I had no idea there were so many talented and skilled women pilots in the US in the late 1950s. I was particularly riveted and outraged while reading about the 1962 Congressional hearings on astronaut qualifications. The arguments for why women shouldn't be considered for positions as astronauts were all so familiar. This book was informative, infuriating, and heart-breaking. I didn't know anything about the Mercury 13, so I'm glad that Ackmann wrote their stories in this book and did it so well. I had no idea there were so many talented and skilled women pilots in the US in the late 1950s. I was particularly riveted and outraged while reading about the 1962 Congressional hearings on astronaut qualifications. The arguments for why women shouldn't be considered for positions as astronauts were all so familiar. (Male astronaut who had just orbited the Earth: Men do these things because men do these things. It's just how society works. Chief of Manned Space Flight for NASA: Women aren't interested in space flight; we certainly don't discriminate against them. Jocular Congressman: There will be plenty of room for women in the program when it comes to colonizing space because we'll need you to make the babies, ha, ha. Rich woman: It's not that hard for women to get jet test pilot experience; I did it! If these women didn't, maybe they don't want it badly enough.) I yelled out loud a couple of times while I was reading, and I had to put the book down for a minute to cry in a couple of places. It was good that the epilogue covered the 1999 Columbia flight commanded by Eileen Collins, the first female commander on a NASA spaceflight. The epilogue also summarized the stories of the Mercury 13 in the years after they attempted to become astronauts. It sounds like they all had rich and interesting lives despite the disappointment of reaching for something that their country thought women shouldn't have.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kacie

    This book, published in 2003, is what I wish more recent authors of "girls books" in STEM/WWII contributions could read and model. As with many history books written by journalists, Ackermann's book is well-researched and and well-written. She uses a few women's stories throughout, and that arc provides structure to the overall story of the women who aspired to contribute to the space program in the 1960s. There were 13 women who underwent some tests (not directly affiliated with NASA) to potent This book, published in 2003, is what I wish more recent authors of "girls books" in STEM/WWII contributions could read and model. As with many history books written by journalists, Ackermann's book is well-researched and and well-written. She uses a few women's stories throughout, and that arc provides structure to the overall story of the women who aspired to contribute to the space program in the 1960s. There were 13 women who underwent some tests (not directly affiliated with NASA) to potentially be a part of the Mercury program or future space travel. We learn in appalling detail of the sexism that these women encountered. NASA, Congress, reporters, public. It was everywhere, including from one prominent woman pilot. Though a bit dense at times, this book really picks up in the last 2/3rds. Would recommend for people who like reading about the space program (it is important to see what NASA didn't do, as well as what it did. We would have won every step of the space race had we included women in all capacities.) 4+ stars for the research, content, tone, writing. I think this pairs well with Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt, though in my review of that book, I mentioned that I didn't care for Holt's tone as much. You'll see a difference if you read both books.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Judy & Marianne from Long and Short Reviews

    Thirteen women who wanted to go to space and the trials surrounding them. I never knew the full story. I know more of it now. I’ve been on a space bender. I really have. I want to know as much as I can, even though I’m scared of heights and have no chance of ever going to space. Silly, right? Me, a girl who isn’t thrilled by heights wants to know about space. I do. This book is interesting from the first page. I read it in an afternoon. The writing is such that I was sucked in right away and felt Thirteen women who wanted to go to space and the trials surrounding them. I never knew the full story. I know more of it now. I’ve been on a space bender. I really have. I want to know as much as I can, even though I’m scared of heights and have no chance of ever going to space. Silly, right? Me, a girl who isn’t thrilled by heights wants to know about space. I do. This book is interesting from the first page. I read it in an afternoon. The writing is such that I was sucked in right away and felt like I knew the women involved. I felt for Ruth Nichols, who wanted to go to space, but would never be able to and died affected by her lack of chances. Jerrie Cobb, the woman who showed women were perfectly suited for space and could be better than the men without being showy about it. I got emotionally involved in their stories. If you’re looking for a book that reads like a novel and touches on the lives of the women who could’ve gone to space if the chances had come through, then this might be the book you’re looking for. Check it out!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    This is the story of what could have been. Shortly after the first American astronauts - the Mercury 7 - were selected, some of the people involved in that process decided that the space program should also consider female astronauts. though the plan was never sanctioned by NASA, thirteen women - experienced, professional pilots of one sort or another - were selected and began to take the physical and psychological tests that had been administered to the men. In almost all cases, their performan This is the story of what could have been. Shortly after the first American astronauts - the Mercury 7 - were selected, some of the people involved in that process decided that the space program should also consider female astronauts. though the plan was never sanctioned by NASA, thirteen women - experienced, professional pilots of one sort or another - were selected and began to take the physical and psychological tests that had been administered to the men. In almost all cases, their performance matched, and sometimes exceeded, that of the men. But the program went nowhere - even when the women's leaders argued before Congress that the USSR was preparing to send a woman into space and if we wanted to beat them, this was one way to do it. It is a very interesting story, but somehow the book doesn't quite capture the excitement of the times and falls a bit flat. Still worth reading, though.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    I remember the selection of the original 7 male Mercury astronauts, but knew absolutely nothing about these women who took the same tests that the men did, passed them with flying colors, and yet were excluded from the space program until 1978. I didn't know that these women had been excluded. Of course, it was the 50s and 60s, and everyone was excluded except white males. Infuriating. And even though today women and persons of color are not totally excluded from the military, the space program, I remember the selection of the original 7 male Mercury astronauts, but knew absolutely nothing about these women who took the same tests that the men did, passed them with flying colors, and yet were excluded from the space program until 1978. I didn't know that these women had been excluded. Of course, it was the 50s and 60s, and everyone was excluded except white males. Infuriating. And even though today women and persons of color are not totally excluded from the military, the space program, executive suites of corporations, and politics, there is still covert discrimination. My sister used to have a sign on her desk that said, "For a woman to be considered to be half as good as a man, she must work twice as hard. Fortunately, this is not difficult." And the more things change, the more they stay the same. Ms. Ackman has done a wonderful job of telling the history of these women and their attempt to be included in the early space exploration efforts.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    Take a look at today's congress! Look at the photos of NASA, today's corporate boards....token women and a bunch of old white men in suits making decisions for everyone. Whether we're reading about women's progress in the law, medicine, banking, finance, education, religion, politics....we're still second class citizens held back because the foot of some damn man is on our back. Threatened that we just might succeed. Women have always had to run faster, try harder, out think, and even think like Take a look at today's congress! Look at the photos of NASA, today's corporate boards....token women and a bunch of old white men in suits making decisions for everyone. Whether we're reading about women's progress in the law, medicine, banking, finance, education, religion, politics....we're still second class citizens held back because the foot of some damn man is on our back. Threatened that we just might succeed. Women have always had to run faster, try harder, out think, and even think like a man in order to just get a seat at the fricking table. High heels and pearls! Oh there maybe a smattering of women and minorities at the table, but never allowed into the inner sanctum. It is hard to believe that sons, and fathers can continue to think and behave this way. They truly are afraid of being bested by "outsiders", but their own inbreeding and closedoffness can't be healthy. This book made me mad that we've had to continually struggle...not just to be hired, given a chance to be the remarkable beings we are, not just to be equal, but even when we surpass abilities, we can be eradicated from our contributions. Here is the 50th Anniversary of our race to space, and there are crumbs. History judges and takes notes. LBJ just fell off his perch, along with Glenn, and a bunch of the "good ole boys". Call this progress?

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.