Women Among the Stars
By Christine Rex

From the time when women suffragettes fought to get the right to vote in the late 1800ís to the early 1900ís there has been a great desire of women to be in the forefront of scientific exploration above the clouds. Man and women have long gazed at the stars and questioned what was out there. The space program has motivated women to see the successes of men and gained the desire to follow them there. News media and spotlights left the women involved in the program out in the cold.

Most Americans in the fifties saw fireside and domicile as a womanís sphere. This was a culture that was not generous, though seldom overly hostile, to ambitious women. Not every woman who had enjoyed interesting work during World War II retreated into domesticity. Some slipped back into the workforce when the Korean War once again took men into the army.

Bernice Trimble Steadman, simply called "B" by her students and friends. A flight instructor in the forties, fifties and sixties, she was one of the first women to attain the new, higher standard, Airline Transport Rating and was a leader in building the bridge between the golden age of aviation and space. During Steadmanís time woman pilots were unheard of in what was then considered a manís domain. Born a year too late to join the WASPs (Women's Auxiliary Service Pilots) and barred because of her sex from flying for the airlines or going into space, her personal experiences and a keen understanding gives a window to their significance.

Life for women in flight gained momentum in the late 1970ís when Sally Ride became the first woman to join the space program. History also tells us that in 1963 Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova was the first Russian woman in space and that in 1983 Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in orbit.

But as is typical when it comes to the accomplishments of women, a chapter is missing in the story of the "space race." That chapter is "The Mercury 13". But as noted, the military women who are currently with NASA as astronauts, we must take a look at what happened in the early '60s.

When NASA began training the Mercury astronauts, and before the Soviets made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman to go into space, 13 American women had qualified for astronaut duty. In late 1959 a project cloaked in secrecy began to develop at the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Twenty five of the nation's top women pilots were selected to participate in it. Jerrie Cobb was the first woman pilot selected to report to the Lovelace Clinic for Phase One of the tests. When she reported for astronaut training Jerrie Cobb had logged over 10,000 flight hours (John Glenn had only 5,000 and Scott Carpenter 2,900.) She went through the exact rigorous testing as male astronaut candidates. Cobb was studied, tested, prodded, tilted, spun, exhausted with excercise, and put in sensory depravation for over ten hours.

Her test results were so extraordinary, she was sent to the Naval School of Aviation at Pensacola for Phase II of the program, and the other 25 women began Phase I testing.

Twelve of these women, as well as Jerrie Cobb, came through with exceptional test results and were selected - and sworn to secrecy - to become The Mercury 13.

They were:
Rhea Allison, Jane Hart, Mary Wallace Funk (known as Wally), Jean Hixson, Myrtle 'K" Cagle, Irene Leverton, Sara Ratley, Jan and Marion Dietrich (twin sisters) , Gene Nora Jessen, 'B' Steadman and Gerry Sloan Truhill.

As the women waited for the next phase of their training, suddenly, without warning, and without explanation, in July 1961, NASA cancelled all further testing of women. The Mercury 13 women were unable to get answers from NASA - even though these women had all proved to be more than suitable for space flight. In fact studies showed that women were less prone to heart attacks and less vulnerable to loneliness, cold, heat, pain and noise. The fact that women weighed less was in itself cost effective since the cost to send anything in orbit was roughly $1,000 per pound. A Congressional subcommittee met in July of 1962 to review the scenario of women being denied space travel. NASA responded with a Catch 22 loophole - they used the fact that the female trainees had never gone through the jet-aircraft testing at Edwards Air Force base. The catch was that women were not yet eligible for jet-pilot training programs - and they wouldn't be allowed in until 1973.

It's doubtful that anyone around today knows the real reasons women were denied space travel in the '60s - some will hide behind the "public opinion theory", others will say that the women were too good, and the usual bureaucratic bilge will be found in aging reports.

What we do know is that thirteen exceptional women pilots were denied the chance to participate in the space program in 1961 !!

Ironically, thirty four years later, seven of the Mercury 13 witnessed America's first woman pilot astronaut, Col. Eileen Collins launch at Cape Kennedy on February 3, 1995. Col. Collins was the pilot on STS-63 Discovery.

John Glenn returned to space at age 76.
Well wouldn't it be nice if NASA would extend the same invitation to Jerrie Cobb, who is still flying!!
Fortunately the NASA people and the NASA attitude that prevailed in the '60s do not exist today with respect to women in space. Since Dr. Ride's trip in 1983 several women have been involved in space travel and some of them are military women.


Valentina Tereshkova


Dr. Sally Ride

Sally Kristen Ride
First American Woman in Space

Our future lies with today's kids and
    tomorrow's space exploration.

                                 óDr. Sally Ride

At 27, with B.A., B.S., and masters' degrees, she was a Ph.D. candidate looking for postdoctoral work in astrophysics when she read about NASA's call for astronauts in the Stanford University paper. More than 8,000 men and women applied to the space program that year. 35 were accepted, six of whom were women. One was Sally Ride.

After joining NASA in 1977 Ride underwent extensive training that included parachute jumping, water survival, gravity and weightlessness training, radio communications and navigation. She enjoyed flight training so much that flying became a favorite hobby. During the second and third flights of the space shuttle Columbia (November 1981 and March 1982), Ride served as communications officer, relaying radio messages from mission control to the shuttle crews. Dr. Ride was also assigned to the team that designed the remote mechanical arm, used by shuttle crews to deploy and retrieve satellites. In 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the shuttle Challenger (STS-7). Her next flight was an eight-day mission in 1984, again on Challenger (STS 41-G). Her cumulative hours of space flight are more than 343.

Ride was preparing for her third mission when Challenger exploded in 1986. When training was suspended, she was appointed to the Presidential Commission charged with investigating the accident.


Dr. Ride has received numerous awards, including the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the Women's Research and Education Institute's American Woman Award, and twice awarded the National Spaceflight Medal. Dr. Ride was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame at Kennedy Space Center on June 21, 2003.

Dr Ride blazed the path for women in the NASA program and opened the door for space exploration for those women who followed her.



PERSONAL DATA: Born April 27, 1953, in Fayetteville, North Carolina,

EXPERIENCE: After completing medical school, Dr. Baker trained in internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, Texas. In 1981, after three years of training, she was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine.

NASA EXPERIENCE: In 1981, following her residency, Dr. Baker joined NASA as a medical officer at the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center. That same year, she graduated from the Air Force Aerospace Medicine Course at Brooks Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas. Prior to her selection as an astronaut candidate she served as a physician in the Flight Medicine Clinic at the Johnson Space Center.

Selected by NASA in May 1984, Dr. Baker became an astronaut in June 1985. Since then, she has worked a variety of jobs at NASA in support of the Space Shuttle program and Space Station development. A veteran of three space flights, Dr. Baker has logged over 686 hours in space. She was a mission specialist on STS-34 in 1989, STS-50 in 1992, and STS-71 in 1995. Currently, Dr. Baker is the Lead Astronaut for Medical Issues, and the Astronaut representative to the Education Working Group at Johnson Space Center.


SPACE FLIGHT EXPERIENCE: STS-34 Atlantis (October 18-23, 1989) launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. During the mission, the crew successfully deployed the Galileo to explore Jupiter, operated the Shuttle Solar Backscatter Ultraviolet Instrument (SSBUV) to map atmospheric ozone, conducted several medical experiments, and numerous scientific experiments. Mission objectives were accomplished in 79 orbits of the Earth, traveling 1.8 million miles in 119 hours and 41 minutes.

STS-50 Columbia (June 25-July 9, 1992) launched and landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. STS-50 was the first flight of the United States Microgravity Laboratory and the first Extended Duration Orbiter flight. Over a two-week period, the crew conducted scientific experiments involving crystal growth, fluid physics, fluid dynamics, biological science, and combustion science. Mission objectives were accomplished in 221 orbits of the Earth, traveling 5.7 million miles in 331 hours 30 seconds and 4 minutes in space.

STS-71 Atlantis (June 27-July 7, 1995) launched from the Kennedy Space Center with a seven-member crew and returned there with an eight-member crew. STS-71 was the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and involved an exchange of crews. The Atlantis Space Shuttle was modified to carry a docking system compatible with the Russian Mir Space Station. It also carried a Spacelab module in the payload bay in which the crew performed various life sciences experiments and data collections. Mission accomplished in 153 orbits of the Earth, traveling 4.1 million miles in 235 hours and 23 minutes.

Military Woman Astronaut part of crew to live in space:
During the STS-102 mission, Discovery carried the Expedition Two crew - Russian Commander Yury Usachev and Americans Jim Voss and Susan Helms - to the orbiting science outpost.
Air Force Colonel Susan Helms was one of the Flight Engineers spending four months living on the International Space Station beginning in March 2001. She was the first female to take up residence on the space station.

For more about the
Space station please visit:
NASA - STS-102

Several military women are participating, or have participated, in the space program, on loan to NASA from their respective services.

Col Eileen Collins, U.S. Air Force

Col Susan Helms, U.S. Air Force

Lt Col Nancy Jane Currie, U.S. Army

Cmdr. Wendy Lawrence, U.S. Navy

Col Yvonne Cagle, U.S. Air Force

Lt Col Catherine G. Coleman, USAF

Cmdr. Susan Kilrain, U.S. Navy

Cmdr K Hire USNR

Lt Col Pam Melroy,USAF

Lt Cmdr. Sunita Williams, U.S.N.

Bonnie Dunbar, one of eight women training as astronauts in the NASA Program said, "it is the dream of yesterday that is the reality of today, and the hope and reality of tomorrow." Serving as the spotlight of attention for being among the "first female astronauts", Dunbar also stated that extensive media coverage bothers her because it stresses her sexuality over her talents. "I'm an engineer first", she explained.

The world can be a better place if only everyone works together to obtain one complete goal and that is to seek the stars and beyond. These women have sacrificed much to gain the visions they sought for success. We remember the teacher who gave her life to touch the stars. Christa McCullah found her dream and gave her life for that dream. We dedicate this piece to her memory.

Our Outer Space Special Continues With The Following From 2005...

Space Special | Rocketing Into Space | India In Space | Europeans In Space
Women Among The Stars | Cosmology and Astronomy | Reaching For The Stars
Antigravity (Fiction) | Not To Go Into Space (Opinion) | Telescopes
Night Skies January-February 2005 | Space in Film, TV, VHS and DVD
Astrology January-February | Cartoons Part 5 (Marvin The Martian) | Books (Space in Print) | Music (Space in Melody)


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