Author Topic: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight  (Read 4521 times)


Offline Dana

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #1 on: 05/15/2007 04:47 AM »
Very clear article. I wish more people could read it. I've heard that whole Mercury 13 story a lot over the years, including on Space Cowboy Saloon: how a baker's-dozen "equally-qualified women who passed all the tests," etc. were shorted by the big bad NASA Old Boy network-what an eyeball-roller, seriously.

It's the "equal flight experience" thing that they can never figure out. They see a male USAF/Navy/Marine pilot with, say, 1,500 total hours and one of the Mercury 13 with 1,500 total hours, and somehow, it never seems to register with certain members of the press and the occasional strident feminist that 1,500 hours putt-putting around in Cessnas and Cubs and the odd jet ride in a T-Bird DOES NOT EQUAL 1,500 hours in Sabres, Panthers, F-84s and Banshees in Korea, testing Century Series jets at Edwards, a couple of hundred carrier landings including many in jets that have never landed on a carrier before, cat shots and night traps in combat conditions, etc. IT AIN'T THE SAME!
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Offline CFE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #2 on: 05/16/2007 03:07 AM »
The fact that the Mercury 13 didn't get to fly is merely a reflection of society at that time.  Although they were among the most accomplished aviatices of their day, women weren't able to gain the relevant experience that was required to meet the standards for being an astronaut.  Shame on Dr. Lovelace for ever getting their hopes up.  Perhaps with the advent of space tourism, the surviving members of the Mercury 13 will be able to get a suborbital ride on SpaceShipTwo or Rocketplane XP.

Jim Oberg did a great public service (as usual) through his timely report.  People who want to use the Mercury 13 as a weapon for bashing NASA should instead praise NASA for opening its ranks in 1978, and ensuring that female astronauts would become a routine part of the space program, instead of being used for Soviet-era stunts.
"Black Zones" never stopped NASA from flying the shuttle.

Online Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #3 on: 05/16/2007 01:35 PM »
Quote
Shame on Dr. Lovelace for ever getting their hopes up.

I don't see how he did anything wrong at all.  Is there any evidence that he deserves to be shamed?

Online Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #4 on: 05/16/2007 01:39 PM »
Quote
Jim Oberg did a great public service (as usual) through his timely report.  People who want to use the Mercury 13 as a weapon for bashing NASA should instead praise NASA for opening its ranks in 1978, and ensuring that female astronauts would become a routine part of the space program, instead of being used for Soviet-era stunts.

Well, let's not overpraise Jim's piece.  Margaret Weitekamp wrote a book on the M13 quite awhile ago.  The truth has been out there, it's just lazy people who have not looked for it.

And NASA's record on this is actually pretty good.  The statistics indicate that there are more women astronauts than women pilots in either commercial or military aviation.  However, it's also worth noting that astronaut and pilot are not equivalent.  Astronauts are often scientists and technicians, so there should be a comparison with those fields.  But the agency made some positive decisions in the 1970s.

Offline E_ E_ H

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #5 on: 05/16/2007 01:40 PM »
Good article that. It's interesting towards the end too when it talks of the limitations of Russian vehicles.
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Online FutureSpaceTourist

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #6 on: 11/21/2017 03:44 PM »
Bump due to Amazon developing the Mercury 13 story as a mini-series:

http://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=44279.0

Offline Anu

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #7 on: 11/28/2017 02:31 PM »
Whilst I agree with the overall gist of what James Oberg is saying in relation to the "Mercury 13" in the 2007 article, he is somewhat harsh on describing Svetlana Savitskaya's cosmonaut status as being due to being a senior officer's daughter. Savitskaya may have had opportunities through her father's connections and status that enabled her to do nearly 500 parachute jumps and a stratospheric skydive from nearly 50 000 ft before her 18th birthday, but she clearly had natural talent as a pilot, having set several time-to-height records in the Ye-266 Mig -25 prototype and as a world aerobatics champion before becoming a cosmonaut.  She performed well on her two Soyuz missions and was universally respected in the cosmonaut corps, as far as I can tell.

Update on numbers - there are now 4 flown female Soviet/Russian cosmonauts......still staggeringly low.
« Last Edit: 11/30/2017 09:37 AM by Anu »

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #8 on: 12/04/2017 09:49 AM »
Update on numbers - there are now 4 flown female Soviet/Russian cosmonauts......still staggeringly low.

Svetlana Savitskaya was flown in part because the Soviets knew we were going to launch a woman on a Shuttle flight and they needed some quick one upmanship over the US. Aside from her family connections, she was (and still is) a committed believer in communism, so that certainly couldn't have hurt her mission chances. Yelena Kondakova and Yelena Serova both had connections to the space program that allowed them to get a mission. Russia is a country that is still very much in the 1950s on gender relations; despite Valentina Tereskhova being officially considered a national hero, postflight reports and official histories of the Soviet space program made various derogatory and borderline misogynistic comments about her (her performance on Vostok 6 was not all that great, truth be told).

As for the Mercury program, one had to be a military test pilot and absolutely no women would have met those qualifications. The American public would have also been outraged if a woman had died in an accident like Apollo 1 and it probably would result in the cancellation of the program. It wasn't a viable idea to fly women in space until the Shuttle era when multi-person crews became a thing and female astronauts could serve as mission specialists or other non-piloting areas.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2017 12:28 PM by WallE »

Online Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #9 on: 12/04/2017 02:47 PM »
It wasn't a viable idea to fly women in space until the Shuttle era when multi-person crews became a thing and female astronauts could serve as mission specialists or other non-piloting areas.

No. Remember that scientist-astronauts were discussed in the 1960s. There were apparently at least a few women scientists considered very early on in the application process, but they got ruled out. I think there is still more to be discovered about the early discussions of the scientist-astronaut program. It's entirely feasible that a female scientist could have flown on Apollo.


Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #10 on: 12/04/2017 03:35 PM »
Remember that scientist-astronauts were discussed in the 1960s. There were apparently at least a few women scientists considered very early on in the application process, but they got ruled out. I think there is still more to be discovered about the early discussions of the scientist-astronaut program. It's entirely feasible that a female scientist could have flown on Apollo.

In theory they could have flown women astronauts on an AAP mission if AAP hadn't been truncated. In fact they also considered signing an African-American astronaut in 1966, but in both cases it waited until the astronaut class of 1978, which was after the social changes of the 60s-70s made it more acceptable.

You have to remember that in the Mercury days, NASA were also absurdly strict with micromanaging the astronauts' personal lives and they all had to be upstanding, married, churchgoing family men because that was just the cultural norm in America at that time. By the time Apollo 13 flew, they were more willing to tolerate Jack Swigert's bachelor lifestyle.

So it was partially cultural norms/prejudices and partially space travel being the great unknown that only experienced test pilots could be trusted with.

Online Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #11 on: 12/04/2017 06:12 PM »
You have to remember that in the Mercury days, NASA were also absurdly strict with micromanaging the astronauts' personal lives and they all had to be upstanding, married, churchgoing family men because that was just the cultural norm in America at that time.

How did that work out?

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #12 on: 12/04/2017 06:36 PM »
How did that work out

Tough especially with the media spotlight and training/missions that required astronauts to spend literal months away from their families. Three of the Mercury Seven ended up getting divorced, the rest stayed with their wives for the rest of their life. Everyone's probably heard how Gus Grissom had a home built in Houston with no front windows to keep reporters from looking inside.

Also when Scott Carpenter flew, LIFE Magazine ran a full cover story showing pics of Carpenter and his family taken as NASA PR to portray him as the all-American dad. That was very much the image NASA wanted to project of its astronauts, and in retrospect it seems faintly comical considering that he ended up being married four times.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2017 11:29 PM by WallE »

Offline zubenelgenubi

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #13 on: 12/04/2017 08:23 PM »
It wasn't a viable idea to fly women in space until the Shuttle era when multi-person crews became a thing and female astronauts could serve as mission specialists or other non-piloting areas.

No. Remember that scientist-astronauts were discussed in the 1960s. There were apparently at least a few women scientists considered very early on in the application process, but they got ruled out. I think there is still more to be discovered about the early discussions of the scientist-astronaut program. It's entirely feasible that a female scientist could have flown on Apollo. [Zubenelgenubi's bold]

More specifically: Astronaut Group 4, 1965 "The Scientists" and Group 6, 1967 "XS-11."

EDIT: Yes, scientist-astronauts had to successfully learn to fly jets (become high-performance pilots) before they could begin further candidate training.  Jackie Cochran flew jets.

(Jackie Cochran initially supported the Mercury 13, and later used her influence against it/them.)
« Last Edit: 12/04/2017 08:58 PM by zubenelgenubi »
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Offline RIB

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #14 on: 12/04/2017 08:24 PM »
It wasn't a viable idea to fly women in space until the Shuttle era when multi-person crews became a thing and female astronauts could serve as mission specialists or other non-piloting areas.

No. Remember that scientist-astronauts were discussed in the 1960s. There were apparently at least a few women scientists considered very early on in the application process, but they got ruled out. I think there is still more to be discovered about the early discussions of the scientist-astronaut program. It's entirely feasible that a female scientist could have flown on Apollo.
Well, only if she passed what passed for ASCAN training in the 1960-1975 period. I believe some of the science-astronauts in both early selection groups found jet training beyond their skill level.

Online Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #15 on: 12/04/2017 10:05 PM »
Well, only if she passed what passed for ASCAN training in the 1960-1975 period. I believe some of the science-astronauts in both early selection groups found jet training beyond their skill level.

So you think women couldn't do that job?

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #16 on: 12/04/2017 11:12 PM »
RIB is correct about the jet piloting requirement during the Apollo era. Even Harrison Schmidt, a civilian with no experience as a military test pilot, still had to take lessons flying in jets before he could qualify as an astronaut. None of the Mercury 13 appear to have flown anything but a propeller-driven aircraft, which would have instantly disqualified them from consideration as astronauts.

Eileen Collins and Susan Killrain commanded/piloted Shuttle missions and they did train on jets and met all the mission requirements, so no, it's not impossible for women to handle the piloting aspects of a mission.

As for Jackie Cochran, it's suspected that she became worried about the possibility of the Mercury 13 stealing her spotlight as the top female pilot in the world and worked to undermine them after having initially lobbied for them to become astronauts.
« Last Edit: 12/04/2017 11:21 PM by WallE »

Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #17 on: 12/05/2017 02:14 AM »
While I appreciate Blackstar's sentiment that women could have easily flown in Apollo or AAP / Skylab, and totally agree with it, the real issues had nothing to do with whether women could do the jobs.

The real issues had to do with sticking two or three people into a Gemini or Apollo capsule that was the size of the front seat of a VW beetle, or of a station wagon, and expect them to all change their clothes, go to the bathroom, and do all sorts of other very personal things with no ability to go somewhere else to do them.

IIRC, Mike Collins sort of summed it up at one point in "Carrying the Fire", when he made a comment in re Gemini of it being bad enough to use his sticky-bag to have a bowel movement while bumping his arms (and other things) into "ugly ol' John Young sitting beside me"; it would have been nearly impossible to do so next to a woman, no matter how good of a friend she was, or how capable she was at her job.

While you could disappear into the LEB in Apollo, sort of, you weren't really out of view.  There just wasn't that much room in an Apollo; there was no way at all around having to use the waste management system within view of the rest of the crew.

Not only did the men in the astronaut corps at the time find the idea unappealing, their wives found it even less so, and NASA management just shied severely away from explaining how ol' Bill over here just whips his  penis out to empty his bladder, right in front of shy little Mary....  (And yeah, I know, Skylab had a private toilet.  But if you had to go during the day or so after you docked, but before you could inhabit the workshop, you've got the same issue.)

Besides, the astronaut corp was composed of hot-shot test pilots.  Even after Jack Schmitt spent 53 weeks learning to fly jets, the entire corps laughed (behind his back) to the joke "If God had meant Man to fly, he would never have made Jack Schmitt."  They didn't like anyone who didn't conform to their idea of what a test pilot should be like -- and that didn't just include the scientist-astronauts, that included some of the actual test pilots.  People like Al Bean, Rusty Schweickart, Bill Anders and Walt Cunningham felt cut out of every one of the various cliques in the corps, to the point where they formed their own "Why is everyone but us getting flight assignments?" clique.

They tended to see women as people you married and had kids with, or cheated with behind the backs of the wife and children.  Women would have been fine astronauts, I think, and been able to perform just as well as, if not better than, the men who flew early missions.  But the guys who made up the corps at the time would never have accepted them, I don't think.

It was the mores of the late 50s and early 60s that did in any chance of women crew on American spacecraft before Shuttle.
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Offline RIB

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #18 on: 12/05/2017 10:39 AM »
Well, only if she passed what passed for ASCAN training in the 1960-1975 period. I believe some of the science-astronauts in both early selection groups found jet training beyond their skill level.

So you think women couldn't do that job?


Are you absolutely positive that NO non-pilot science- astronaut ASCAN , regardless of their sex,  wouldn't have failed to qualify as jet pilots during the Mercury-Gemini- Apollo era? Ever hear the Brian O'Leary quote. "Flying isn't my cup of tea?"  Just because they were selected, there was no guarantee that any of the non-pilots in the Group 4 and the XS-11 selection groups would NOT wash out  and never become flight astronauts...that goes for any women who MIGHT have been selected.

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #19 on: 12/05/2017 11:51 AM »
While you could disappear into the LEB in Apollo, sort of, you weren't really out of view.  There just wasn't that much room in an Apollo; there was no way at all around having to use the waste management system within view of the rest of the crew.

And let's not even get into Gemini and the amount of "space" in there, or Frank Borman's famous remarks about spending two weeks in a men's room.

Not only did the men in the astronaut corps at the time find the idea unappealing, their wives found it even less so, and NASA management just shied severely away from explaining how ol' Bill over here just whips his  penis out to empty his bladder, right in front of shy little Mary....  (And yeah, I know, Skylab had a private toilet.  But if you had to go during the day or so after you docked, but before you could inhabit the workshop, you've got the same issue.)

On the other hand, Soyuz had an orbital module so these issues didn't come up with Svetlana Savitskaya. They could just go in there, close the door, and do their stuff. During her stay on Salyut 7, they explicitly gave her the orbital module for changing/bathroom use.

Of course, it doesn't factor in Mercury which only had a single pilot so privacy issues weren't a concern there.

Besides, the astronaut corp was composed of hot-shot test pilots.  Even after Jack Schmitt spent 53 weeks learning to fly jets, the entire corps laughed (behind his back) to the joke "If God had meant Man to fly, he would never have made Jack Schmitt."  They didn't like anyone who didn't conform to their idea of what a test pilot should be like -- and that didn't just include the scientist-astronauts, that included some of the actual test pilots.  People like Al Bean, Rusty Schweickart, Bill Anders and Walt Cunningham felt cut out of every one of the various cliques in the corps, to the point where they formed their own "Why is everyone but us getting flight assignments?" clique.

When you think "test pilot", you think a hyper-competitive, macho jock type like Alan Shepard. Weird little hippies like Russell Schweickart were definitely outliers. But by the time of Apollo, NASA were pushing the idea of the scientist-astronaut harder and moving away from the Mercury-era image of astronauts being hard-drinking macho pilots. Some of them like Jim Lovell fell into the role naturally, others like Shepard simply wanted to show off their piloting prowess and had no interest in science.

They tended to see women as people you married and had kids with, or cheated with behind the backs of the wife and children.

Or the wife cheated on you; that happened plenty but was never talked about in those days (unless all those blues, country, and pop songs about cheating spouses were intended as fiction). And I don't think today you'd get away with calling women "a hundred pounds of recreational equipment" like one of the Mercury astronauts apparently did.

Women would have been fine astronauts, I think

Jackie Cochran certainly could have done it if she had been a bit younger (she was in her 50s and too old for consideration as an astronaut by the time Mercury flew). I would argue she was more qualified than any of the Mercury 13 since she actually flew jets.

It was the mores of the late 50s and early 60s that did in any chance of women crew on American spacecraft before Shuttle.

Yes, it was an era where women were expected to marry right out of high school and become homemakers and emulate June Cleaver or something like that. Incidentally, Scott Carpenter's wife later on the '70s became a TV host, got into the women's lib movement and had several lovers. Guess the '60s got to her. Must have been like on the Simpsons when Homer's mom sees Joe Namath's sideburns and has a freak out.

As one other note that I already touched on, space travel in the early days was a huge question mark. Astronauts went up with the full knowledge that their launch vehicle could explode on the pad or in the air, the effects of weightlessness on the human body were unknown, or they might end up crashing into the Moon. Nobody wanted the PR disaster of a woman getting killed on a flight.

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