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    NASA’s Lost Female Astronauts
    In the late 1950s, the United States government contemplated training women as astronauts, and newly released medical test results show that they were just as capable and tough as the men who went to the moon.|Read More|

    Randy Lovelace
    William Lovelace II
    In the early years of the "space race", two men sought to test a scientifically simple yet culturally complicated theory: that women might be better suited for space travel than men. In 1960 the thought of a woman in space was a radical one. 75% of American women did not work outside the home, and were banned from military flight service altogether. Wives were required to have their husband's permission to take out a bank loan, buy property, or purchase large household goods such as a refrigerator.

    During the mid-1950s, Harvard-educated physician, surgeon and aeromedical physiologist William R. ("Randy") Lovelace, began considering the possibility of sending a woman rather than a man into space. He established the private Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education and Research, which received government contracts throughout the '50s to conduct aerospace research. Lovelace was among the team of experts who developed the physiological, medical and psychological criteria by which astronaut candidates were assessed and selected. This process was used to select the Mercury 7, the seven men who would comprise the first American astronaut group.

    His proposition was based purely on physiology and practicality. He recognized that women's lighter weights would reduce the amount of propulsion fuel being used by the rocket's load and that women would require less auxiliary oxygen than men. They knew that women had fewer heart attacks than men and their reproductive system was thought to be less susceptible to radiation. Finally, preliminary data suggested that women could outperform men in enduring cramped spaces and prolonged isolation.

    Cobb on tilt table |1960|
    Before testing could begin, the Air Force announced that it would no longer pursue the program. In response, Lovelace established a privately funded effort, the Woman in Space Program Earliest (WISE) in 1959. A total of 19 women were enrolled, most of whom had been selected from flight schools.

    The women underwent the identical tests that the male candidates had undergone. In the end, 68% of the women passed with "no medical reservations" compared to 56% of the men. The 13 females who passed were known as the Mercury 13. They were Bernice "Bea" Steadman, Janey Hart, Geraldine "Jerri" Sloan Truhill, Rhea Allison Woltman, Sarah Lee Gorelick Ratley, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, Wally Funk and Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb.

    Jerrie Cobb was the first female to volunteer for the program. Having taken up flying at just age 12, she held numerous world aviation records for speed, distance and altitude, and had logged more than 10,000 hours of flight time. By comparison, of the Mercury 7 astronauts, John Glenn had the most flight experience at a total of 5,100 hours.

    Cobb beside Mercury capsule
    Cobb had undergone a standard battery of personality and intelligence tests, EEG and neurological tests and psychiatric interviews. On the final day of advanced testing she was immersed in a soundproof isolation tank filled with cold water in order to induce total sensory deprivation. Based on previous experiments in several hundred subjects, it was thought that six hours was the absolute limit of tolerance for the experiment before the onset of hallucinations. Cobb, however, spent more than nine hours in the water, before the staff terminated the experiment.

    All told Cobb had tested in the top 2% of all the candidates, male or female. In May 1961 Cobb received an informal invitation to undergo spaceflight stimulation training at the U.S. Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, FL. After ten days of testing, she had scored as well as experienced Navy pilots and plans were made to test the remaining 12 women.

    Despite the promising results, the Pensacola testing had not been authorized and the military would not move forward. Lovelace could not pursue the Woman in Space program further. Cobb assumed the de facto leadership of the women and began extensive lobbying efforts. However, in a meeting with then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, no further support was offered for the program.

    The would-be Mercury 13 astronauts would ultimately be held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Some NASA officials speculated that female performance could be impaired by menstruation. Others wanted pilots who had already flown experimental military aircraft — something only men could have done, since women were barred from the Air Force.

    In August 1961, WISP was cancelled. It was not until 1995, when Eileen Collins piloted the STS-63 shuttle around the MIR space station, that the Mercury 13 met again. Collins was the first woman to become a space pilot, but not the first woman who deserved to.

    “They knew it was a long shot, but they were willing to take it,” said Donald Kilgore, a doctor who evaluated candidates at the Lovelace Clinic. “They were very special people.”

    | More

    Members of the "Mercury 13" gathered to watch Eileen Collins' 1995 launch. From left to right: Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Sloan Truhill, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, Myrtle Cagle, and Bernice Steadman.
    Posted on Saturday, October 31 @ 08:46:24 MDT by sonicbom
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