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Who Were the First Female Astronaut Candidates?

When NASA recruited the first American astronauts in 1959, it was strictly "men only." Women weren’t specifically banned, but the Mercury Seven all had to have experience as military test pilots, and those jobs were only open to men. But some aerospace medicine experts believed that women would be better suited as astronauts. On average, women are lighter, shorter, and consume less food and oxygen. Without official NASA approval, the "Woman in Space Program" was secretly created to see if women had the right stuff. By the early 1960s, 13 women had successfully completed the same grueling physical tests as NASA's male candidates, in hopes of becoming the country's first female astronauts.

They were promised the Moon:

  • Experienced female pilot Jerrie Cobb was the first of the so-called "Mercury 13" to be tested. Cobb passed all three phases of the screening program, and surpassed the male astronauts on some tests.

  • To see if Cobb's results could be replicated, Dr. William "Randy" Lovelace recruited 12 other female pilots. Among the candidates were 21-year-old flight instructor Wally Funk and 39-year-old Janey Hart, a mother of eight and wife of U.S. Senator Philip Hart.

  • The initiative was canceled when the U.S. Navy learned that Lovelace’s testing program was not actually sponsored by NASA. Cobb and Hart lobbied Vice President Lyndon Johnson to reconsider the decision, but to no avail.

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More Info: NASA History Program Office

Discuss this Article

anon998774
Post 1

Too bad about the cancellation. Political correctness is no reason to open any field, but people capable of passing the requirements should be allowed to serve.

It's ridiculous to have this constant gender narrative when the focus should be solely on ability. Changing the rules does not allow for the best to be identified, and only casts shadows on those who pass with lowered qualifications. Keeping the standard the same makes anyone passing earn respect from all their peers, as it should be.

I feel no surprise that the best of women candidates surpassed the males, nor should anyone else. The fact remains that more men than women would be capable of passing, but the women who do should be acknowledged, allowed to serve, and not have the stigma of lowered standards placed upon their accomplishments.

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