Bea on Columbia
It's generally agreed that the "Space Race" officially began on October 4th, 1957. That's the day Russia launched the Sputnik, a 184 pound globe that mocked the United States as it orbited the planet emitting a scary "beep beep". Thus began a series of "first's" the Russian's gained in the Space Race.
There are many reasons why they were first in many areas, not the least of which were safety considerations. But let's look at some of these firsts:
This would be the First Woman in Space. The Russians AGAIN beat us - June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova on Vostok 6 - although we had already had a group of women pass the physical and psychological tests 3 years PRIOR to the Tereshkova flight, the very SAME physical and psychological tests that selected the original Mercury 7.
It's important to realize that in the early 1960's, there were many prejudices. Some were being fought very well, and it was way past due. But NASA did not fight these prejudices. We did not put a woman in space until 1983; June 18th, 1983 in fact, 20 years and 2 days AFTER Russia did it. And although our first female, Dr. Sally Ride, was arguably one of the best and the brightest NASA had to offer, she was a Mission Specialist and not a Pilot or Mission Commander. Certainly not meant to belittle her accomplishments, not in the least; Dr. Ride paved many a road for females in the space industry. But to put it into further perspective, not only was it 20 years from when Russia launched a female into space that our first female went, it was another 12 years (February 3, 1995) until we had a female PILOT (Col. Eileen Collins). And then, 4 years after that, Col. Collins became the first Mission Commander. So from June 1963 when Tereshkova launched until we had a female Mission Commander, was 36 years. Col. Collins was only 6 years old when Tereshkova launched, and less than a year old when Sputnik launched.
Now that you're armed with these facts, lets go back to 1960, when the first of the Mercury 13 was asked to report to the Lovelace Clinic, in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jerrie Cobb was a pilot, who learned to fly at a very early age. Determined to be a professional pilot, she later went on to own 4 altitude records, recognized by the FAI and was a test pilot for North American Aviation. She also ferried surplus military airplanes worldwide, from trainers to 4 engine bombers. She did so well in this first phase, she was consulted about other women to participate in the program. The list was narrowed down to 25 women, of which 13 total would make it through the testing. Keep in mind, some of these 25 women were the top female aviators of their era, and participated in the very same physical and psychological tests that were used to narrow down the original astronaut applicants, down to the 7 that comprised our first manned venture into Space, the Mercury program - names we all know: Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Wally Schirra, Gordon Cooper and Deke Slayton. These 25 women, whittled down to 13, who progressed to more training, training that never came. The testing was completed in 1961, with the following 13 left: Jerrie Cobb, Bernice Steadman, Janey Hart, Jerri Truhill, Rhea Woltman, Sarah Ratley, Jan and Marion Dietrich, Myrtle Cagle, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Jessen, Jean Hixson, and Wally Funk. Of this group, only Jerrie Cobb successfully completed 3 phases of testing. However, all passed what the Mercury 7 men did.
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