May. 08, 2012

NASA's Pioneer Women

by Annette Heist

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Expand slideshow to full screen to see uncropped photos.
Sometimes on a rainy workday you need a little inspiration. Or maybe you just need a website other than TMZ from which to do a little extracurricular web surfing. Either way, I offer you GRIN: Great Images In NASA. It's all here: Hubble images, Skylab, and even a few cosmonauts. The archive is massive, searchable, and easy to get lost in.
I clicked on the "women" subhead a couple pages in and came across this image of Sheila Scott, above, pictured with her Piper Aztec Mythre. According to GRIN, in 1971 Scott became the first person to fly over the North Pole in a single engine plane. She was carrying NASA equipment for a communications experiment testing the Interrogation Recording and Location System (IRLS) of the Nimbus polar orbiting satellite. 
Jerrie Cobb (left) hoped to be an astronaut for the Mercury program. Cobb and twenty-four other women underwent physical tests similar to those undergone by the Mercury astronauts. In spite of scoring as well as, or better than, many of the male candidates screened for the program, she wasn't selected. In 1998, Cobb tried again to get to space, and was again passed by. (NASA sent 77-year old John Glenn to fly on the shuttle.) Writing in a 1998 op-ed, Martha Ackmann, of Mount Holyoke College, says Cobb didn't get the chance to be a Mercury astronaut because of sexist attitudes at NASA.
"She had her job snatched away just as she was ready to launch into the final phase of training. At the eleventh hour, NASA reconsidered and decided Cobb lacked the right stuff. No woman, it seems--no matter how qualified--would be eligible for the Mercury Program," Ackman wrote.
(Or as John Glenn said in 1962 congressional hearing called to evaluate astronaut qualifications: "The fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order.")
Read more about Jerrie Cobb's fight to get into space here and here. And see the slideshow above for more amazing aviatrixes from NASA's past. (In 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, on the shuttle Challenger, STS-7.)
About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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