Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream


Have you ever heard of the “Mercury 13” women? Did you know that nearly twenty years before the first women were let into NASA’s astronaut program, there were others who tried?

What are the requirements for being shot into space, piloting a hunk of metal while carrying the hopes and fears of your nation? Mastery of flying, as well as courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, and fitness—any checklist would certainly include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there ...

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Have you ever heard of the “Mercury 13” women? Did you know that nearly twenty years before the first women were let into NASA’s astronaut program, there were others who tried?

What are the requirements for being shot into space, piloting a hunk of metal while carrying the hopes and fears of your nation? Mastery of flying, as well as courage, intelligence, resistance to stress, and fitness—any checklist would certainly include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there was an unspoken rule in place: astronauts must be male, and they must be white.

Here is the tale of thirteen women who proved not only that they were as tough as any man but also that they were brave enough to challenge the government. Their passage to space was blocked by prejudice, jealousy, and a note scrawled by one of the most powerful men in Washington. But in the end, their inspiring example empowered young women to take their rightful place in the sky, piloting jets and commanding space capsules. Almost Astronauts is the story of thirteen true pioneers of the space age.

2010 Sibert Medal winner

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Enlivened by numerous b&w and color photographs, this thorough book takes readers back to the early 1960s to tell the story of 13 women who underwent a battery of physical endurance tests (including hours spent in a deprivation tank) and psychological analysis to determine their readiness to travel in space. A gripping narrative surfaces in Stone's text, as the women are repeatedly thwarted by NASA, discriminated against and patronized by society ("Gene Nora Stumbough's boss said she couldn't have time off. So she quit. Sarah Gorelick had the same problem.... So she quit"). Readers with an interest in history and in women's struggle for equality will undoubtedly be moved. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Sue Poduska
Women were not allowed into the U.S. space program until 1978, but talented women lived on the fringes of the program from the early days. Through the efforts of Randolph Lovelace, the chairman of NASA's Life Sciences Committee, several women were tested for suitability for space travel. The first woman tested was Jerrie Cobb, who more than surpassed the results seen for the Mercury 7 astronauts. Twelve more women had excellent results, but they never got the chance to be trained. More than twenty years after the first manned space flights, Sally Ride became the first woman in space. Another sixteen years passed before Eileen Collins became the first female shuttle commander. The author spends a large portion of the book describing the social and political atmosphere of the time. While this is important, the descriptions feel almost like a distraction. The achievements of these women were impressive in any situation, and their stories should be told. The book is readable and useful as a reference. The author's research is meticulous, and she includes a good index, numerous photographs and illustrations with credits, references for further reading, available websites, an extensive bibliography, endnotes, and acknowledgments. Reviewer: Sue Poduska
VOYA - Laura Lehner
In 1960, thirteen American women passed the physical exams required to become astronauts as surely as any of the men already involved in NASA's early space flight endeavors, but they were disqualified solely because of their gender. This book is their story. Pilot Jerrie Cobb was invited at the age of twenty-eight by a private foundation working with NASA to participate in the same type of testing that the Mercury 7 astronauts had to take - she jumped at the chance. She passed the difficult physical challenges more successfully and with far less complaining than some of her male counterparts. Cobb opened the door for twenty-four additional female pilots to undergo the strenuous testing. Twelve passed, only to be told in a directive from Vice President Lyndon Johnson that NASA would not be accepting female astronauts into their program. Their story then continues through the milestones for women in space up to the present - Sunita Williams was appointed in 2008 to the most senior astronaut position at NASA. Stone does an admirable job of compiling and crediting her facts and figures and of profiling these strong and adventurous women. Many historical photographs help tell the story, changing dramatically from black and white to full color as women take their rightful positions in the American space program. The staccato writing and authorial intrusions can confuse the narrative at times, but any girl with an interest in space flight or the history of women's rights will enjoy this account and applaud these courageous pioneers. Reviewer: Laura Lehner
School Library Journal

Gr 5-7

Stone adopts a tone of righteous indignation in chronicling the quixotic efforts of 13 women to win admission into NASA's initial astronaut training program in the early 1960s. The women were all pilots (one, Jerrie Cobb, had more hours in the air than John Glenn or Scott Carpenter), earned high scores in preliminary tests, and even counted a senator's wife among their number. But resistance came from all directions-including NASA regulations, which were weighted toward men; media coverage that reflected contemporary gender expectations; political maneuvering by then vice president LBJ and other officials; and the crushing opposition expressed by renowned aviatrix Jackie Cochran in a 1962 Congressional hearing. Properly noting, however, that losing "depends on where you draw the finish line," the author closes with chapters on how women did ultimately win their way into space-not only as mission specialists, but also as pilots and commanders. Illustrated with sheaves of photos, and based on published sources, recently discovered documents, and original interviews with surviving members of the "Mercury 13," this passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.-John Peters, New York Public Library

Kirkus Reviews
The fascinating, dramatic story of the "Mercury 13," a group of women aviators who proved to be as courageous, intelligent and fit as any man, but who were nonetheless barred from NASA's astronaut program because of their gender. At the center of the story is Jerrie Cobb, a veteran pilot who successfully completed every test given to male astronauts. Her performance, and that of the others, proved women had the "right stuff," but these findings were not enough to overcome the prevailing prejudices of the time. It took 20 years before NASA admitted women into the astronaut program. Stone poignantly chronicles how the efforts of Cobb and her colleagues were ridiculed and thwarted by everyone from Vice President Lyndon Johnson to Mercury astronauts Scott Carpenter and John Glenn and-in a bitter irony-Jackie Cochran, a highly respected, trailblazing female pilot who appeared to be motivated by jealousy and spite. The author offers great insight into how deeply ingrained sexism was in American society and its institutions. Handsomely illustrated with photographs, this empowering, impassioned story will leave readers inspired. (foreword, source notes, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 10 & up)
School Library Journal
Gr 5–7—Tanya Lee Stone's exceptional story (Candlewick, 2009) explores the little known experiences of 13 brave, inspiring women who dreamed of becoming astronauts in the very early days of NASA's training program and submitted themselves to many of the tests undertaken by their male counterparts, the Mercury 7. As much a commentary on the gender prejudices of the 1960s as a biography, Stone brings together a variety of primary and secondary sources, including her interviews with some of the women involved, to provide a unique view of the challenges faced by the female pilots of the day. The focus on Jerrie Cobb, a leader among the group, who completed all of the tests that the male astronauts underwent, may leave some listeners wishing for more information on the other 12 women who dared to dream. Nevertheless, the eye-opening details presented here with such passion will inspire many students. Throughout the audio presentation, Susan Ericksen perfectly captures the exuberant personal tone of the author, maintaining an appropriately upbeat, enthusiastic tempo. Listeners will be engrossed and inspired.—Deanna Romriell, Salt Lake City Public Library, UT
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781441890559
  • Publisher: Brilliance Audio
  • Publication date: 8/24/2010
  • Format: MP3 on CD
  • Edition description: Unabridged, 1 MP3-CD, 3 hrs. 41 min.
  • Age range: 12 - 14 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Tanya Lee Stone is a former editor and award-winning author who often writes about strong women. She has garnered starred reviews and other accolades for books such as UP CLOSE: ELLA FITZGERALD and the highly popular AMELIA EARHART.

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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 31, 2009

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    Impressive tale

    Women were considered to be "cheaper" to send to space - but they couldn't pass the requirements to allow them into the program. There were several women who desperately wanted to be allowed into space. NASA refused. Men underwent strenuous testing that women couldn't possibly endure. Except that they did. With one man behind the idea - he tested Jerrie Cobb in secret. She knew that she had to be tough; she never complained and furthermore she excelled at the tests. Twenty-four other women were tested - half of them passed. But they were told by NASA and the government that women would not be accepted into the space program. For one reason: they did not preform the requirements. The requirement (waived for John Glenn) consisted of flying for the army - an option only available to men. NASA did not change the rule until 20 years later. By that time, it was too late for the Mercury 13 to pursue their dreams. But they watched other women lead men into space; it was both bittersweet and a long time coming.

    I had never heard of this story before; it was a real eye opener. I devoured this book. It was amazing. I've never been so interested in space before. I loved hearing about the secret cover-ups and shocking tales from NASA. The history combined with personal tales and dreams from the Mercury 13 made for a very powerful and emotional read


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 27, 2011

    What an inspiration!

    At first when I was finished reading this book I was so disappointed that the Mercury 13 never was able to live their dreams, but now I see that that wasnt the important message in this book. I got from the story that even though other people can hold you back, as long as you try and work towards your goals that stronger it makes you as a person. Those couragous women define what it means to be a women. They worked so hard for something they knew they were probably never going to achieve. I really liked the story and found it inspiring.

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  • Posted May 19, 2011

    Reach for the Stars

    This book tells the story of women wanting to become astronauts and do everything they can to fulfill their dreams. The only obstacle that is impossible to overcome in their time period, was that women were not allowed to become astronauts. This story captivates its audience and after reading, you will learn a lot about what astronauts must go through to fulfill their dreams. After this story, you may find yourself searching the internet for "Mercury 13" and going beyond the book to find out even more like I had done. This is an inspirational story, but also bittersweet. Why is it bittersweet? Read this book for yourself and find out why.

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  • Posted May 15, 2011

    Her Space As Much As His

    In a time when women were viewed merely as passive homemakers, there were indeed women who were bold enough to take on a very active role in the shaping of their own lives. This book is an inspiring tribute to the Mercury 13 Women whose defeated struggles to become astronauts have paved the way for generations of women to become successful in male-dominated fields. Author Tanya Lee Stone reveals the gross discrimination against women during the 1960's not just by men but also by government and military officials and even other women. Despite all of the disapproval and opposition that they faced, the Mercury 13 Women met it all with unwavering determination and steadfast confidence and are as every bit heroes as any man can be.

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  • Posted December 8, 2010

    Inspired for more...

    I was uncertain when I picked up this book, but after I began to read it I found it interesting and compelling. This is a story of the Mercury 13, women who aspired to go beyond what they had achieved and strived to become astronauts. In this book you will find very detailed information about the struggles these women endured in their process of trying to become astronauts. It explains how sexism played a major role in allowing women into a position that was for seen just for men. I read this book to my daughter who was also intrigued by women's struggles. I recommend this book.

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  • Posted September 19, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Candace Cunard for

    When I was ten, I wanted to be an astronaut. I checked out books from my local library, I worked hard in my science classes, I visited the Kennedy Space Center, and I read a lot of science fiction so that if I ever ran into aliens on my mission to Mars, I'd be prepared. Reading this book made me realize how lucky I was to have grown up in an atmosphere where the abilities of women were respected more or less regardless of their gender. The same year I turned ten, Eileen Collins became the first woman to pilot a space shuttle.

    But back in the 1960s, aspiring women had no such role models; if they wanted young girls to understand that it was possible for women to perform just as well as men, they would have to become the models for future generations. In this book, Stone tells the story of the "Mercury 13," a group of thirteen women who fought tooth and nail for entrance into the space program decades before NASA let any women in. The combination of clear prose, firm social and historical grounding, and the detail-oriented nature of this account had me hooked from the beginning, opening a window into the history of women in space.

    Stone portrays her facts convincingly, utilizing quotes from contemporary media sources like newspapers and magazines along with first-person narratives from the women involved and historical photographs. This combination of sources makes the experience of reading this book visceral, something you feel in your gut. This was particularly evident to me in the chapters where Stone describes in a play-by-play manner the physical and psychological tests that the Mercury 13 underwent in order to prove that they were just as capable as men. For a moment, I felt like I was in that isolation tank, or battling with my first experience of zero-gravity.

    Throughout my reading, my emotions oscillated between shock at the unbelievable attitudes toward women that prevented the Mercury 13 from ever seeing space and horror at the realization that these events had occurred less than fifty years ago and are still supported to this day by a vocal minority. Although at times it was difficult even to imagine the level of discrimination that these women faced, Stone makes it quite clear that these women had the kind of boldness and courage borne of intelligence and self-respect that allowed them to continue fighting against these obstacles.

    ALMOST ASTRONAUTS tells a story of courage against the odds, but also of a desire to expand beyond horizons, from the boundary of Earth's atmosphere to the assumed boundaries between genders. It makes a good source for a research report, but the clean and clear writing style makes it much more interesting and easy to follow than the average non-fiction work. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in space and the people allowed to go there.

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  • Posted August 1, 2009

    Almost Astronauts a Great Book for Young Girls to Read

    I watched a review on this book on a news channel and it captured my interest because I have two young great nieces who are being home school and are now beginning to read, what they call "chapter books." What captured my attention was the story of women passing all of the test that the men had to do in order to be astronauts, but not being allowed to go into space (at the beginning of the space program) simply because they were women. But the success of these women in the testing began a process that would eventually allow women into space . . . a story of determination I wanted the women in my family's next generation to hear. There's a lot of good history in the book, which occurred during my early years but unfortunately I wasn't interested in at the time it was happening. In hindsight I hope young people having access to books like this one will help young people find interest in the history they are living today as well as appreciate the history that made today possible. Great book. Please read and share with age appropriate young people in your family. There are great historical pictures in the book too. Enjoy! It makes a great gift.

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  • Posted May 16, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Terrific book about women astronauts

    Few people know how difficult it was for women to be accepted by NASA. The women who first were tested, trained, then rejected are key to the understanding of the "woman is inferior" belief carried down through the centuries. This book leads to a reconciliation that women are definitely not inferior.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 8, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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