The Mercury 13

On June 16, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space—during the Vostok 6 mission. It was 20 years later (almost to the day) that Sally Ride became the first American woman in space—as a crewmember on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7 on June 18, 1983.

In Martha Ackmann’s The Mercury 13, we are introduced to 13 women who should have been among the first in space. They included Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, Myrtle Cagle, and Bernice "B" Steadman, who were some of the most accomplished pilots of their time, male or female. These women passed the same rigorous tests (in 1961) that the original Mercury 7 astronauts underwent in the late 1950s. The women's testing program was eventually scrapped and women astronaut candidates weren’t selected by NASA until the 1978 class of Space Shuttle astronauts.

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