In 1982 Sally Ride became the first American woman and the third woman in history to fly to space, but the first female astronaut trainees, which were the 13 unheralded women of “Mercury 13,” who underwent extreme physical tests developed as part of NASA’s astronaut selection process in 1961 but never made it to space. As told in the upcoming Netflix documentary scheduled for release on April 20, NASA wasn’t serious about its female astronauts at the time, even if they proved that they had as much of the “right stuff” as their male counterparts.
Mercury 13 tells the story of the 13 women and the odds they faced in becoming part of Project Mercury, the first U.S. spaceflight program. They were part of a short-lived, privately funded project called Lovelace’s Women in Space Program, an Air Force project meant to determine whether women, on average smaller and lighter than men, were better equipped to go to space. This program wasn’t publicized in its time, much like the incredible women that served as “human computers” profiled in the hit 2016 film Hidden Figures.
Mercury 13 opens with Brigadier General Donald Flickinger and Dr. William Lovelace II, who also served as the head of NASA’s Special Committee on Bioastronautics, recruiting pilot Jerrie Cobb to undergo the same intense physical training Lovelace was developing for NASA’s male candidates. Ultimately, 13 women led by Cobb passed the examinations, eight of whom are alive today and are profiled in the documentary.
NASA soon shut down the secret program and focused on the now-famous Mercury 7, the male astronauts that became the first Americans in space.
The Daily Galaxy via NASA
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