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Women had The Right Stuff to be early astronauts, but their timing was lousy


Who are these women? They’re women who had hopes of being among the first US astronauts some 50 years ago. And we all know how that turned out.

It wasn’t that they didn’t have The Right Stuff. They passed all the psychological tests and took the same physical as the guys. And (are you surprised?) they often did better. But they were not among the Mercury astronauts, and in fact never really had a shot at being part of that illustrious team.

Henry Spencer, amateur space historian, wants you to know that what kept the women out of space was not the rampant sexism of the time. No, it was just that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) had decided to recruit only military test pilots for the program. And it just happened that all military test pilots were men. Because in those years, the US military didn’t accept women into pilot training programs.

So it definitely wasn’t sexism.

In fact, it was really the women’s fault. They had no sense of timing.

For an update on how the women did on the tests, see here. There are also links to a new paper describing the process in more detail.

The 1995 NASA photo above shows some of the women who might have been among the original astronauts if only the times–or their pesky X chromosomes–had been different. They had gathered to watch Eileen Collins’ launch as the first female pilot of a space shuttle mission. It only took a quarter-century. From left to right: Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Sloan Truhill, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, Myrtle (“Kay”) Cagle, and Bernice (“B”) Steadman.

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