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Jul 25 2012

Not just Sally Ride

I had never heard of the Women in Space Program before, but apparently, after the Soviets sent Valentina Tereshkova into space, there was actually an effort to train American women as astronauts.

The participants of the Women in Space Program experienced tremendous success. “Nineteen women enrolled in WISP, undergoing the same grueling tests administered to the male Mercury astronauts,” Brandon Keim wrote in 2009. “Thirteen of them — later dubbed the Mercury 13 — passed ‘with no medical reservations,’ a higher graduation rate than the first male class. The top four women scored as highly as any of the men.”

The graduates were Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, Wally Funk, Irene Leverton, Myrtle “K” Cagle, Jane B. Hart, Gene Nora Stumbough, Jerri Sloan, Rhea Hurrle, Sarah Gorelick, Bernice “B” Trimble Steadman, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, and Jean Hixson, called the “Mercury 13″.

I never heard of them before. They didn’t go into space, either. What happened?

Well, there were some revoltingly sexist attitudes at NASA.

In fact, one NASA official who declined to give his name to a reporter, said it made him “sick to his stomach” to think of women in space. Another called Tereshkova’s flight “a publicity stunt.”

A few did think of one use for women in space: “improving crew morale”. They nixed that because “such a situation might create interpersonal tensions far more dynamic than the sexual tensions it would release”. Yeah, they went there: the one thing a woman astronaut might be good for is getting her male colleagues off during long space flights.

So they come up with a lovely catch to prevent well-qualified women from joining the space program.

For a short while, it seemed that their quest to fly might advance. In 1962, the women were scheduled to continue testing at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Florida, but NASA declined to support their visit. Without official backing, the Navy canceled the trip. Cobb tried to save the program, flying to Washington and testifying before Congress. But NASA officials, John Glenn among them, told the Congressmen that women couldn’t be astronauts because they hadn’t flown jets, which were only available to the military, which also barred women.

This argument apparently proved persuasive and the Mercury 13 never got another chance to make their case for space, even after Tereshkova’s record-setting flight.

Would you believe I got a comment from a Thunderf00t acolyte on youtube just this morning?

FEMINISM IS A NON ISSUE. WOMEN ALREEEEEEEEADY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS IN THE WEST. NO MORE NEED FOR FEMINISM IN THE WEST.

Nice to know these problems have all gone away already.

71 comments

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  1. 1
    Louis

    I was nice to a woman once.

    Feminism has won. We can all go back to the (fake) 1950s.

    Everyone tear down their protest signs and unburn their bras. Step away from the legislature and those yummy, scrummy rights you all want so much. Equal treatment? Schmequal treatment! Same pay for same day? No way! Maternity issues? Not my problem.

    Hush now ladies, hush, hush. Men talking.

    Louis

  2. 2
    Pteryxx

    Sure, it’s not “The Right Stuff” without a penis. Maybe some of those manly-man disorientation and nausea tolerance tests should involve being exposed to competent women!

  3. 3
    Ogvorbis: Still failing at being human.

    But NASA officials, John Glenn among them, told the Congressmen that women couldn’t be astronauts because they hadn’t flown jets, which were only available to the military, which also barred women.

    This line of reasoning is used so often. Blacks cannot serve in combat because there are no black combat units (used during WWI & WWII). Women cannot fly high performance military aircraft because there are not woman fighter pilots (in the West, anyway). And it ain’t new. Nice to know that NASA, pushing the boundaries of what is possible, were also a hidebound haven of traditionalism.

  4. 4
    Icaarus

    There was a good book on this about 10 years ago, buried somewhere with my other hardbacks

    http://www.stephanienolen.com/moon.htm
    http://www.amazon.com/Promised-Moon-Untold-Story-First/dp/1568582757

    Stephanie Nolen goes over the fiasco and leaves male feminist readers in agony, from having to read about the success of misogyny over reason. In the early days it was cheaper and safer to send smaller women into space then linebackers, go figure.

  5. 5
    tonymoss

    Not that I agree with the Youtube message but… attempting to refute a claim that gender equality has been achieved by pointing to discrimination from fifty years ago is a bit weak. Adding the message from Youtube was a bit of a non-sequitur really.

  6. 6
    Big Boppa

    “FEMINISM IS A NON ISSUE. WOMEN ALREEEEEEEEADY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS IN THE WEST. NO MORE NEED FOR FEMINISM IN THE WEST.”

    Yes….and since the election of Barack Obama there is no racism in America either. Just listen to that nice Rush fellow’s radio program if you need proof.

  7. 7
    stevenlevoir

    Is there any sort of citations for these quotes and anecdotes? I don’t doubt the stories as such just would be nice to have some first hand evidence.
    Also I’m not the most educated on women in space, but from the Wikipedia entry apparently there have been 56 women who have been into space 45 of which were American.

    But yeah I’d love some citations to check up on this unless I’m dense and have missed where you’ve stated your citations.

  8. 8
    hypatiasdaughter

    that women couldn’t be astronauts because they hadn’t flown jets

    may have made sense in the earliest stages of the program, when the equipment was primitive and highly experimental (i.e. you might actually have to be a jet jockey to fly the early craft) but I would think by the time NASA was sending up stuff specialized for SPACE, it would be irrelevant. If you have to retrain a jet pilot to handle spacecraft, couldn’t you train anyone else qualified?
    There were some people in the program who suggested that women might be a BETTER choice for space. They are smaller, so take up less space and consume less oxygen, water and food. They are physically hardier in some ways, and aren’t subject to those emotional weakness (that old “morale” problem) that make it a challenge for men.
    I suspect the idea never went far, because the ladies would be stealing the gent’s thunder…too humiliating!

  9. 9
    TxSkeptic

    “FEMINISM IS A NON ISSUE.”

    Nice to know, we can put that on a t-shirt, along with this one-

    “Since we now have a black president, racism is dead”

  10. 10
    Matt Penfold

    (i.e. you might actually have to be a jet jockey to fly the early craft)

    The stupid thing is that you did not have to be a jet jockey. The early US space program required almost no input from the astronaut at all. In fact, the early (male) astronauts complained that so little input was required from them. NASA had to actually modify the Mercury capsule to give the astronauts some feeling they were in control.

    The physical stresses during launch were real, but all that required was the astronaut be physically fit.

  11. 11
    skeptifem

    Wasn’t there a scandal at NASA a few years ago about how much pornography was being viewed on their computers during work hours?

  12. 12
    Pteryxx

    The quotes in the OP come from here, and have linked citations in the original:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/07/the-women-who-would-have-been-sally-ride/260246/

  13. 13
    thetalkingstove

    Thunderfoot’s youtube gang are just dreadful.

    I wasted 45 mins or so arguing with a bunch of them. Got told I was a misandrist within the first five minutes for daring to use the phrase ‘male privilege’.

    I foolishly tried to use a race based analogy to explain the concept, but just met denial that white privilege exists either. Apparently white people experiencing racism in China negates white privilege.

    They were basically just angry at any suggestion that there are scenarios in which the decent thing to do is listen and learn rather than argue. Egotistical little chumps.

  14. 14
    Zeno

    The original plans for the Mercury capsule gave the astronaut so little to do that the program was dubbed “man in a can.” The original seven Mercury astronauts, all of them pilots with extensive experience, had to agitate to get more control over the vehicle with a “fly by wire” system that allowed them to modify the capsule’s attitude. As hot-shot pilots, the Mercury astronauts chafed at the possibility that they had been reduced to mere passengers — exactly the reason that some test pilots refused to apply to become astronauts.

  15. 15
    tsig

    The first astronauts were monkeys so it didn’t take any skill to sit in a chamber and be blown into space so the whole “they weren’t pilots” thing was a red herring.

  16. 16
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    If people are interested in female astronauts and what they’ve been through and accomplished and their stories – not just Sally Ride but also many of the 42 (so far) others – I’d like to recommend Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles’ book ‘Almost Heaven – the story of women in space’ (MIT Press, 2006.) if you can find a copy.

    Co-incidentally today – 25th July 2012 – marks the 28th anniversary of the first ever spacewalk by a woman, Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984.

    (Source : Page 20, ‘The Advertiser’ newspaper’s “Remember When” column, 2012 July 25th.)

    BTW. Here’s a link to an online article :

    http://www.care2.com/causes/sally-ride-one-former-little-girls-memories.html

    ‘Sally Ride: One (Former) Little Girl’s Memories’ by Veronica Arreola, director of the University of Illinois, Chicago Women in Science & Engineering Program – on Sally Ride’s inspiring other women to follow her weightless non-footsteps to my name here as some may find it interesting and not yet have read it.

  17. 17
    Pteryxx

    The first astronauts were monkeys …

    And dogs.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laika

  18. 18
    Icaarus

    Pteryxx – Actually fruit flies, then monkeys, then dogs, then apes. Apes were used to test the astronaut’s cognitive abilities once in space. No use putting someone up there who can’t do anything.

  19. 19
    Icaarus

    Almost forgot Laika, the first orbiting animal was female.

  20. 20
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @15. tsig 25 July 2012 at 9:33 am :

    The first astronauts were monkeys so it didn’t take any skill to sit in a chamber and be blown into space so the whole “they weren’t pilots” thing was a red herring.

    Well, that’s if you discount the dogs going back to Laika up with Sputnik II :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OopWVyrE3G8&feature=related

    Then there were the awholeseries of unfortunatel canines culminating in survivors Strelka and Belka who gave JFK puppies.

    The Soviet Union also sent russian tortoises, wine flies, meal worms, plants, seeds and bacteria around the Moon on several of the Zond spaceflights. One lot landed safely, another lot – at a critical moment in the space race – died from depressurisation during re-entry.

    The USA flew other animals too and there’s a wikipedia page for “Animals in space” which notes that six national space programs have flown animals into space the others being France, China, Japan and Iran.

  21. 21
    Gregory Greenwood

    tonymoss @ 5;

    Not that I agree with the Youtube message but… attempting to refute a claim that gender equality has been achieved by pointing to discrimination from fifty years ago is a bit weak. Adding the message from Youtube was a bit of a non-sequitur really.

    Look around you – attitudes really haven’t changed very much, as can be seen from the prevelance of rape culture in our society. You want examples of contemporary misogyny? Look at the well documented incidences of glass ceiling employment discrimination, or the fact that women still aren’t paid as much as men for soing the same work in many industries, or the existence of a legal system so riddled with rape culture that in the US a victim of sexual assault can be threatened with a greater term of jail time for exposing the identities of her attackers than the rapists themselves are set to serve and in the UK only 6.5% of reported rapes result in convictions, and estimates indicate that as much as 95% of rapes still go unreported due to fears that reporting the rape will put the victim on trial as much or more than the accused.

    There seems to be a definite continuity between the attitude that all women astronauts are good for is “improving crew morale”, and the attitudes in modern society that treat the work of women as less valuable than that of men, and treats punishing the perpetrators of the rape and sexual assault of women as a lesser priority than shaming the victims themselves.

    Contrary to the ALL CAPS obsessed idiot referenced in the OP, misogyny is not yesterday’s news. The battle for equality for women is not even close to being won, and the attitudes of today are intimately linked to those from half a century ago.

  22. 22
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    D’oh. Make that :

    Then there were the a whole series of unfortunate canines culminating in survivors Strelka and Belka who gave JFK puppies.

    See :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strelka_(dog)#Belka_and_Strelka

    Which notes :

    They were accompanied by a grey rabbit, 42 mice, 2 rats, flies and a number of plants and fungi. All passengers survived. They were the first Earth-born creatures to go into orbit and return alive.

    Others of course, such as Laika had gone into space before and, well, not.

  23. 23
    Icaarus

    Hey, don’t call the first animals in space unfortunate, you imply that they were designed to return to earth. The first round of 40′s and 50′s programs had no intention of returning the animals alive as they did not design any kind of reentry system.

  24. 24
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @23. Icaarus : I’d say that kinda makes them “unfortunate” wouldn’t you?

  25. 25
    steve84

    The Russian women in space were indeed mostly publicity stunts and not really taken seriously either. Especially Tereshkova who then made a career in politics. Savitskaya had more of a cosmonaut career. She did two flights in the early 80s and was also a test pilot. Even then her second flight had more to do with pre-empting the first spacewalk by a woman, which America had announced by then.

    NASA at that time hadn’t yet opened the astronaut program to male non-military personnel, so that reasoning isn’t all that surprising. Remember that this was in the early 60s. I think the first time scientists were allowed to fly was on the later Apollo missions in the 70s. That only really began to change with the increased room available on the Space Shuttle. Since then mission specialists have frequently been civilians.

    To their credit, when NASA finally got their act together, they gave women real responsibility and careers. They have been both shuttle and space station commanders. Right now a woman is director of the NASA Astronaut Office, which is the highest position for an astronaut. And Sunita Williams will take command of the ISS.

  26. 26
    usingreason

    FEMINISM IS A NON ISSUE. WOMEN ALREEEEEEEEADY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS IN THE WEST. NO MORE NEED FOR FEMINISM IN THE WEST.

    Right, except for the majority of states in the USA where marital rape is a lesser crime. Total equality.

  27. 27
    Vijen

    Adducing a random commentator in a risible attempt to assuage the guilt you feel for your own hypocrisy and dogmatism… How would you feel if Thunderf00t did the same to you? Grow up PZ! If you hadn’t already dug yourself such a deep grave full of post-modernist piffle you’d be able to apologize. You know you’re really in trouble when being right outweighs all other considerations.

  28. 28
    ljbriar

    I don’t disagree with the content of this post at all. It is the easiest thing in the world to believe that female astronauts were looked upon as little more than potential zero-G sex bunnies in the 1960′s, and of course the Youtube comment is just so much flaming ignorance. But speaking from the POV of a professional editor, I have to agree with tonymoss that the two put together don’t show much logical connection. Doesn’t mean either point is wrong, they just don’t go together very well.

    But this is one of the exceptionally rare times that anything on FTB has set off my editing antennae. Not trying to derail from the topic at hand, which is that NASA treated it’s early female applicants abominably.

  29. 29
    Jasper of Maine

    Not to get too political, but as long as the Republican party exists, so will feminism.

  30. 30
    pipenta

    All that huffing and puffing to keep women out of the boy’s club. And look what the reality is, MEN GO BLIND IN SPACE! And it ain’t just from playin’ with themselves cuz they weren’t assigned comfort women.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2039777/Nasas-mission-Mars-Scientists-fear-future-astronauts-blind.html

    It’s so karmic that it almost makes you believe in a god..ess. Only of course now NASA won’t have the funding to do much of anything in the way of MANned flight. And it won’t unless some of those rich sociopathic billionaires decided they can make a fat profit in space. So I guess I’ll stay an atheist. The universe is random and can, at times, be a cruel bitch.

    Now if this vision deterioration thing was a problem just facing women, NASA & Co. would shrug their shoulders and not bother to address it. The simple solution would be have mostly women astronauts, but they will not do that. If the situation was reversed, it would be a different deal. They’d be all “SEE, WE TOLD YOU THIS WAS A JOB FOR MEN.” And they’d keep the women at home, or maybe just in the office making coffee and running the copy machine. Shades of Mad Men.

    I don’t know if I should laugh or cry or pull my hair. But honestly, this kind of thinking is rife in space-exploration fan culture. Star Trek? Umm yeah, you look so nice in that mini skirt honey, now go fetch me some Romulan space coffee. But take some dictation first. We were supposed to be all excited about Uhura, but she was basically the telephone operator. You’re going to have to do better than that to get me engaged. And the newer Trek? Started with a woman security officer, but Roddenberry couldn’t can her ass fast enough and put a nice big macho male in that job, a Klingon no less. And then we had a season or two of a fourteen year old white boy saving the world. (Turns out Wil Wheaton is a real nice guy, let’s not blame him for his character.) Like the female superheroes in Marvel Comics all having powers that operated at a remove (force fields, invisibility, stuff that wouldn’t smudge their make up) what we got were empathetic women whose skill was caring because, well, that was appropriately womanly. Oh for Ripley with a flamethrower!

    And Star Wars? Remember that awards scene in the great hall at the end? A sea of men and white ones at that. And I thought, well they aren’t making this movie for people like me. If you shoot a scene like that with real bodies, you have to cast it. You have to make the call that you only want white men. If you are building a crowd in post, again you are making the call. Tra la la, let’s paste in another fifty dozen rows of WHITE GUYS. Somebody wants to make it very clear who is and isn’t in their club.

    You see it in science fiction. You see it in space program fandom. It is off-putting. Sent me through the astronomy sections of a lot of museums at a brisk trot until i could find my way to the invertebrate zoology halls and bask in the diversity.

    I’m gonna go watch me some spiders.

    Ah, I feel much better now.

  31. 31
    jmckaskle

    47 women in space. That’s less than 1 percent of the total number of people who have been to space. Good news, femenists! You can pack it up because 1% is the new 50%.

  32. 32
    thisisaturingtest

    @#3, Ogvorbis:
    Not to drift too far OT, but… this is the same kind of circular justification used here in MS in the law requiring the doctors in the state’s one and only abortion clinic to be certified OB-GYNs (which they were), and to have admitting priviliges at local hospitals (which wasn’t really necessary, as the abortion clinic itself had standing agreements with local hospitals to admit patients requiring further care- in effect, the clinic had admitting priviliges). The doctors at the clinic were denied the admitting privileges the law required, not because they were unqualified, but- because they do abortions.
    It’s setting a criteria for success while simultaneously and knowingly making that standard impossible of achievement for certain people.

  33. 33
    NelC

    simonlevoir @7, if you google “women in space program” you’ll find references to the Mercury 13, which if you google again will find you several websites on the subject.

    James Oberg’s Space Review piece may be to your tastes, as it is generally critical of much of the press the story has received, but he doesn’t really address the underlying issues of sexism in the astronaut selection process.

  34. 34
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    If you haven’t read “Right Stuff, Wrong Sex,” look for it. After “must have jet piloting experience” was added to disqualify women, four of the women actually pooled their money to buy a jet and get the requisite flying hours. At that point, the requirement was changed to “must have military jet piloting”–purely to block women from qualifying.

    It muse have galled them that, while men were reduced to quivering blobs by eight hours in a sensory deprivation tank, women could do seventy.

  35. 35
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    One could say that all the astronauts were test animals. After all, they DIDN’T BUILD IT THEMSELVES.

  36. 36
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    And here we thought that making laws targeting abortion clinics would make the other side play fair.

    The anti-choice folks are fond of pulling out historical graphs showing the drop in death rates from abortions without noting that the first drop is from the discovery of antibiotic medicines and the second, gigantic drop is from the legalization of abortion. I hates them, I hates them forever.

  37. 37
    Worldtraveller

    Louis @1: You forgot, “now go make me a sammich.”

  38. 38
    Markita Lynda—threadrupt

    In WWII, women used to fly high-performance military jets to deliver them from the manufacturer. So there.

  39. 39
    robro

    steve84 — The first US scientists were in Astronaut Group 4 introduced in June 1965. They were six men, maleness not being a typical requirement to be a scientist, but this was NASA. One them, Harrison Schmidt (Geologist), became the first US scientist in space in 1972, and the last person to set foot on the moon.

    The Soviet Union beat the US there, too, by 8 years. They put the first scientist (Konstantin Feoktistov) and medical doctor (Boris Yegorov) into space in 1964 on Voskhod 1, the first multi-person capsule.

    Calling the Soviet Union’s efforts to put women in space a “publicity stunt” may be falling for the US propaganda. It’s arguable that the manned space flight programs of both countries were publicity stunts. In any case, the Soviet Union had a history of expanding women’s opportunities, so they were at least able to participate in the stunt rather than being denied that opportunity as in the US program.

  40. 40
    Louis

    Fastlane,

    Damn I always miss something!

    Erm can I have a sammich now? Wiv an beer?

    Louis

  41. 41
    neuroturtle

    Jerrie Cobb had more of the “right stuff” than all the men put together. That woman is a badass.

    Makes me feel a lot less warm and fuzzy about John Glenn, after I read about him standing in front of Congress and saying a woman’s place was in the home.

  42. 42
    AlanMac

    FEMINISM IS A NON ISSUE. WOMEN ALREEEEEEEEADY HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS IN THE WEST. NO MORE NEED FOR FEMINISM IN THE WEST.

    This, unfortunately, is the official policy of the Canadian Government. It is the reason that the Harper government gave for suspending all funding to women’s support groups that also engage in advocacy; which is all of them.

    Heart warming to see that some atheists can find common ground with the wacko religious right. {/sarcasm}

  43. 43
    steve84

    Maybe they weren’t *entirely* publicity stunts, but to say that the aspect wasn’t there would be lying. The Soviets freely admitted that it was about upstaging the Americans. On Savitskaya first flight she also had to deal with comments like “Your kitchen and apron are ready” when she arrived in space. And as said, she was put on the second flight after the US had just announced that one of their female astronauts would do a spacewalk. And with the exception of Yelena Kondakova in the mid-90s there aren’t any other female cosmonauts aside from their backup crews (only three ever made it to space). That doesn’t mean it wasn’t an accomplishment for them.

    It’s true though that despite the macho aspects of Russian culture, communist Russia was somewhat more egalitarian in certain ways. Women in science weren’t so unusual there.

  44. 44
    steve84

    @pipenta
    The original Star Trek pilot “The Cage” had a female executive officer: Number One played by Majel Barret (Roddenberry’s future wife)

    The network didn’t like a woman in such a prominent position and gave Roddenberry the choice to get rid of her or Spock (the other character they felt wouldn’t be liked the audience). He canned her. Although Herbert Solow claims that she was mainly rejected because the actress slept with the producer.

  45. 45
    timberwoof

    Pipenta, Gene Roddenberry’s pilot episode for Star Trek had a woman second in command, but the network put the kibosh on that, so Roddenberry promoted Spock to that position and put Uhura, a black woman, on the bridge. You can call him a collaborator if you want, but that was the best he could do. Uhura and Kirk had the first interracial kiss on TV.

    Gene Roddenberry invented the characters for STNG; he wanted Tasha Yar to be a strong character. He didn’t fire Denise Crosby; she resigned from the show. And STNG, despite its flaws, did have strong women characters.

    Yes, there’s a lot of sexism in science fiction, but I recall this being discussed at sci fi conventions, particularly in writers’ panels, as far back as the ’80s. Things are getting better. I just found a pair of reviews of two novels by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. In the first, The Mote in God’s Eye, it’s surprising to everyone when female characters make decisions on their own. In a sequel, The Gripping Hand, written decades later, the writers’ attitudes, and their characters’, have changed.

    I was surprised to read about the Mercury Thirteen; I had never heard of them until this morning. I was not surprised to read about the sexist attitudes at NASA. That’s what people did back then, especially white-bread engineers and flyboys.

    I watched 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) again recently and was struck by how gawdoffal sexist it is! In the future, the (white) boys get to fly the space ships and the girls are the stewardesses who bring them colored mush to eat. Only two women are heard: an astronaut’s mother and a Russian. Then look at Alien (1979) and see the awesome power of Ripley.

    So bash the sexists … but don’t bash all of a genre.

  46. 46
    Trebuchet

    @#44: Just a nitpick, but Roddenberry didn’t get rid of Barrett for the original series — she just got demoted to nurse.

    According to Wikipedia, she joked that Roddenberry “kept the Vulcan and married the woman, ’cause he didn’t think Leonard [Nimoy] would have it the other way around.”

    As pointed out somewhere above, once the NASA did start having female astronauts, they’ve done a far better job of utilizing them than Russia.

  47. 47
    michaelbusch

    @jmckaskle @31:

    56 women out of 525 people who have been to LEO or higher, so the number is ~10.7%. But your point still stands – the gender ratio being lopsided by 10:1 leaves a long way to go.

    As well as Sally Ride and the Mercury 13, we should also remember Judith Resnik, who was the second American woman in space. Her second mission ended in the Challenger disaster.

  48. 48
    Jasper of Maine

    I’d like to expound on my previous comment.

    Let’s assume that, indeed, all points of equality are met. Then what? Do the feminists quit and go home? They’re done and that’s that?

    As soon as they relent, those who would render the women back into 2nd class citizens will be furiously chipping away at all the progress.

    Feminism needs to be constantly on guard from here on out.

  49. 49
    firefly

    When I recently came up against the ‘women already have equality’ statement in a discussion on facebook, I actually laughed at first. I didn’t think anyone was seriously using that as an argument. Sad to be wrong…

  50. 50
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    @47. michaelbusch :

    As well as Sally Ride and the Mercury 13, we should also remember Judith Resnik, who was the second American woman in space. Her second mission ended in the Challenger disaster.

    Yes, indeed.

    Plus veterna female astronaut Janice Voss too who also died of cancer even younger than Sally Ride did. See:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/46302650/ns/technology_and_science-space/t/janice-voss-veteran-space-shuttle-flights-dies/

    for more.

  51. 51
    StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return!

    BTW. found that above link via this one :

    http://cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/07/23/12913149-in-memoriam-ride-sally-ride?lite

    On Sally Ride’s passing which is worth reading too.

  52. 52
    steve84

    @Trebuchet
    I was referring the character. Not the actress. Nurse Christine Chapel was another character entirely.

    It’s interesting to note that female test viewers didn’t like Number One much either.

  53. 53
    tonymoss
  54. 54
    michaelbusch

    @StevoR @50:

    What struck me when I read a section of the Challenger investigation report was what Resnick and El Onizuka (the other mission specialist) did during the last few minutes as the cockpit was falling. One or the other of them turned on the pilot’s (Mike Smith) emergency air supply for him. That shows incredible presence of mind for somebody in a shocked and rapidly depressurizing cabin.

  55. 55
    Nes

    pipenta, I admit that I mostly skimmed over that article, but I failed to find any part that said the vision problems only affected men. In fact, I noticed a distinct lack of gendered pronouns; “astronaut” was used most frequently and it’s gender neutral. Could you quote the part that says that it only affected men?

  56. 56
    tbtabby

    The drawn-out “ALREEEEEEEADY” makes me think that guy is a Poe. But I digress.

    A few did think of one use for women in space: “improving crew morale”. They nixed that because “such a situation might create interpersonal tensions far more dynamic than the sexual tensions it would release”. Yeah, they went there: the one thing a woman astronaut might be good for is getting her male colleagues off during long space flights.

    I once heard that it’s impossible to get aroused in space, because the low-to-no gravity keeps your blood pressure too low to get hard. That would certainly explain a lot: “What good is it having women in space if our boys can’t have their way with ‘em? We can’t even rape them as a punishment for being uppity and hysterical!”

  57. 57
    leonpeyre

    Yes! Someone else who’s heard of the Mercury 13!

    For the record, it was never an official NASA program; it was run by the Lovelace Foundation, which had done the tests for the Mercury 7. Dr. Lovelace wanted to see if women would respond equivalently to the testing, and they did in fact do as well as the men.

    The women being tested naturally felt they should be taken on by NASA as astronauts, but as noted above, NASA had no interest in including women, and Congress wasn’t much better. One of the Thirteen (Hart) was the wife of a senator, and she wasn’t able to rustle up any action in the Senate. The House did eventually hold hearings about whether the women were being unfairly discriminated against, but NASA blithely said Oh no, it’s just that they don’t meet the qualifications of being jet test pilots! And the House committee just basically let it go at that. Too bad, really.

    Of the Thirteen, Cobb was the only one who completed all three rounds of testing. Funk managed to pick up tests at various facilities after the program was canceled, and eventually passed all the tests (or their equivalents) as well.

    When Eileen Collins was going to be the first woman to pilot a Space Shuttle, she found out about the Mercury 13 and invited them to a special viewing of the launch. That was a nice gesture, at any rate.

  58. 58
    woolybumblebee

    Why were there no citations to ANY articles in this piece PZ? It would be nice if your readers could actually read the original article that you referred to, and not just snippets from other second hand sources that they had to google.

    If anyone wants to read the actual 7 page PDF where these quotes came from, and a lot more of the actual piece that explains the whole history of women in NASA, I am linking it here:

    http://web.mit.edu/murj/www/v11/v11-Features/v11-f2.pdf

    It is very interesting and worth the read if you want to actually know more on this subject.

  59. 59
    Stacy

    Another book worth checking out Amelia Earhart’s Daughters by Leslie Haynsworth and David Toomey. It discusses women in aviation from the early days through the early space age. That’s where I first learned of the Women in Space program and the Mercury 13.

  60. 60
    brontodon

    In the original Star Trek TV series, command of a starship was still forbidden to women. (There was a whole episode based on that ban.) Of course, that changed later with Next Generation and Voyager.

  61. 61
    michaelbusch

    tbtabby:
    I once heard that it’s impossible to get aroused in space, because the low-to-no gravity keeps your blood pressure too low to get hard.

    A lack of sexual arousal is not the same as erectile dysfunction. But even that is apparently not the case. At least during the first few days, fluid relocates from what was the lower body to be more uniformly distributed. This produces slightly lower blood pressure in the legs but slightly higher pressure and vasodilation elsewhere, with predictable side effects. Things apparently settle down after a few days of zero gravity.

    The things I learn by reading astronaut autobiographies …

    (I now know three different ways of disposing of human waste while on a spacecraft. I hope to never have to use the Apollo method.)

  62. 62
    eleutheria

    Am I missing something?

    Is PZ positioning an event of sexism that happened 50 years ago as being relevant to Thunderfoot?

  63. 63
    leonpeyre

    No, though he’s pointing out comment(s) by Thunderf00t’s supporters which are relevant to sexism today, speicifically by denying it.

  64. 64
    echidna

    Am I missing something?

    Is PZ positioning an event of sexism that happened 50 years ago as being relevant to Thunderfoot?

    PZ’s post comprises a detailed account of institutional sexism a few decades ago, followed by a comment from this morning that sexism doesn’t exist anymore.
    A literal reading might conclude that the change over the last few decades has been so complete that society has moved from inherent sexism to no sexism in that time. That would be astonishing.

    Except that it is not true. Sure, things are better now than they were then, but to deny sexism exists is just silly.

  65. 65
    eleutheria

    But PZ is relating institutional racism in the US government (a shameful and noteworthy thing) with a random, drive-by youtube troll (and, just how exactly is this commenter “Thunderfoot’s”?). Doesn’t this seem slightly inappropriate?

    He also neglects to mention that every single one of female astronauts-in-training were caucasian.

  66. 66
    Barkeron

    Another called Tereshkova’s flight “a publicity stunt.”

    Weren’t all manned spaceflights up to and including Apollo publicity stunts to show the world which superpower had (almost literally, it seems) the bigger dick?

  67. 67
    chrisdevries

    I know that there are people who have these kinds of opinions, but it’s really hard to believe just how many people thought (and still think) this way. I just cannot see the logic in suggesting not that women can’t do some kind of activity that has hitherto been men-only, but that women shouldn’t be allowed to do that activity, due to some defect that has absolutely nothing to do with their abilities. That’s what these men were doing: the women scored better on the tests and training activities than their male counterparts so it wasn’t an issue of competency; it was an issue of legitimacy. When the idea of a woman in space makes you “sick to your stomach”, you’ve got a problem buddy.

    If it was a question of safety, that there was maybe a biological asset that women lack that would endanger them, it’d be one thing, but it seems the only biological asset they lacked was a penis and testicles, which are totally irrelevant to space flight.

    How is it that not only a few bigots, but the majority of society (including a large number of women) felt this way? Where was the evidence saying that women were less equipped to handle the roles that men traditionally occupied? This kind of irrational behavior is why those people who want atheism to “stick to arguing with theists and defending non-belief, and keep its nose out of ‘progressive politics’” are not seeing how relevant the rational, evidence-seeking perspective we bring to the table is to other social issues. Religion is a problem to be sure, but a religion-free world could still be an unfair, irrational place. We must be ever vigilant that we’re not letting inequity, inequality and injustice flourish in godless communities.

  68. 68
    arresi

    Can’t resist writing in. I interviewed B Steadman as part of a project for my local museum several years ago. As one might expect, she is a fascinating woman – she learned to fly before learning to drive, and owned and operated her own aviation service (including teaching, if I recall) out of Michigan. She wrote an autobiography that included mentions of the Mercury 13 program, and is mentioned in The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackman.

    While she was fairly calm and good-humored, she was clearly still furious at President Lyndon Johnson for shutting women out of the space program.

    (From what I recall, health permitting, she would probably be perfectly willing to be interviewed by PZ Myers on the subject if he were interested. I believe she lives in Traverse City with her husband, whom I also spoke briefly to.)

  69. 69
    JAL: Snark, Sarcasm & Bitterness

    But PZ is relating institutional racism in the US government (a shameful and noteworthy thing) with a random, drive-by youtube troll (and, just how exactly is this commenter “Thunderfoot’s”?). Doesn’t this seem slightly inappropriate?

    You mean institutional sexism. He’s using the youtube comment to show that the fight isn’t over even though stupid people claim feminism isn’t necessary anymore. We’ve made progress but we’ve got a long way to go still.

    The commenter is Thunderfoot’s just like someone here going to crash a poll from a post by PZ.
    1.)They came to that place to comment by way of Thunderfoot
    2.) They are commenting to show support/solidarity/defending with Thunderfoot and are arguing for Thunderfoot’s ideas/ideals/position

    The comment PZ posted is exactly the same crap Thunderfoot says with much of the same stupid formatting .Comments like these are not only welcome at Thunderfoot’s place but comments pointing out the wrongness and stupidity of such comments are not welcome. If you go to Thunderfoot’s place to argue with those stupid sexists, you’re going to have a bad time.

    How is this inappropriate?

    You think mentioning both in one post mean PZ is saying they are the same level of bad or something? That the troll comment isn’t sexism and silencing against feminists? That the institutional sexism is the real and pure sexism?

    I’m sorry but I’m seriously not understanding what your problem with this is.

  70. 70
    randay

    Markita N° 34, not only in the U.S., but also Britain, women flew the most advanced planes from the manufacturers to the planes bases in WWII. But that is little compared to Soviet women who flew fighter and bomber planes into combat.

  71. 71
    jamierussell

    Uhura and Kirk had the first interracial kiss on TV.

    Yes yes, this is being too much of a stickler, but still:
    Not really.

    (Lazy copypasta:)

    This is often cited as the first interracial kiss depicted on a scripted television series,[1][2] but took place after Sammy Davis, Jr. had briefly kissed Nancy Sinatra on the variety program Movin’ With Nancy in December 1967;[4] and an interracial kiss on Emergency Ward 10, a British drama series, in 1964;[5] a kiss between Asian American actress, Victoria Young and David McCallum in the 1966 The Man from U.N.C.L.E episode, “The Her Master’s Voice Affair;” and a kiss between multi-racial actress Barbara Luna and William Shatner in the 1967 Star Trek episode, “Mirror, Mirror”.

    Even Star Trek itself beats the Uhura/Kirk kiss, apparently. I didn’t know that before.

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