1957, the USSR got the first satellite into space with Sputnik, and
the race was on to get the first anything else up into orbit. As U.S.
rockets kept exploding, experts involved were looking for a way to
lighten the load of the first human mission. Men were heavier than
women, which suddenly opened up the possibility of the first female
astronaut. The ill-fated and mostly forgotten initiative to get women
into space way back in the early days of the space program is recounted
in a recent article in the September issue of Advances in Physiology
Education that we found courtesy of Wired.
It's a fascinating read, but we'll recount a bit if you don't have
the time to go through it.
Women were both behind the scenes and at the forefront of the short-lived Women in Space Program, which ran from 1959 to 1961. Jackie Cochran, a famous female pilot who was the first woman to break the sound barrier and set a plethora of other flight records in the 1930s, was the main sponsor of Lovelace's privately-funded fight to prove that, "certain qualities of the female space pilot are preferable to her male colleague." This included extensive physical and psychological testing, which women like Jerrie Cobb, another revered female pilot, were put through to prove that they were equal to men, including every test the seven male astronauts of Mercury mission underwent. 13 of the 19 women passed all the tests, in comparison to only 18 of the 32 to men who were tested.
News of the women's success in surviving simulations of space-related stress, such as a gyroscope that spun the female who was seated in the center on three axes at once for 45 minutes, generated media attention despite a lack of official backing from NASA. Jerry Cobb was named by Life as one of the "100 Most Important People of 1959", and featured in an extensive photo essay in the same magazine the following year.
Unfortunately, the program was not to last. As Wired
points out, the women in the program "were ultimately held to
a different standard than men," being forced to sit in cold isolation
tanks for much longer than John Glenn, according to the famous male
astronaut's memoirs. The article highlights the preposterous thoughts
of some NASA officials, who thought that "female performance
could be impaired by menstruation." According to the Advances
in Physiology Education article, these were just some of the reasons
behind the program's ultimate cancellation in 1961.
According to Andrea Mitchell
Andrea Mitchell, the diminutive, soft-spoken but spunky, veteran NBC Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent recently recounted why she, along with a female colleague, were not assigned to the 3-Mile Island nuclear power plant incident near Harrisburg, PA, in March of 1979, while several male colleagues were sent to cover the event.
immediately confronted her boss as to why he assigned all the men
and none of the women. He said, "There's a very good reason.
It's because you're both of childbearing age and there's a big health
Subsequently, Andrea reported on the 3-Mile Island incident.
a woman all men are born.