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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
In a 1961 address to Congress, President Kennedy spelled out his goals for the new space program: By decade's end, the U.S. would put a man on the moon. As it turned out, "man" was the operative word in this exciting prophecy. Although Neil Armstrong, Alan Sheppard, John Glenn, and other NASA astronauts went on to become household names, there was not a single woman in the highly publicized program.
The Mercury 13 chronicles the story of the first female astronauts, skilled aviators recruited and prepared in a parallel program to NASA's. These extraordinary women were as fit as their male counterparts, and in some instances, they surpassed the men's performances in the rigorous qualifying tests; yet they remained grounded by politics and prejudice. Author Martha Ackmann describes internal problems, including the intense personal rivalry between leaders Jerrie Cobb and Jackie Cochran and the failure of the group to discuss their shared objectives. But the real roadblock to their success was politics. Vice President Johnson believed that a female astronaut program would "jeopardize the whole works." At a time when NASA director James Webb was considering a proposal to integrate women into the space program, Johnson destroyed their chances by writing across the bottom of a document: "Let's stop this now!"
However, the efforts of "the 13" were not in vain. In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to go up in space, in no small measure due to the earlier program. A long-overdue tribute to these courageous pioneers, Ackmann's book is a fascinating read, particularly for boomers who grew up during the Space Age. Vivian Kelly