Author Topic: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight  (Read 4617 times)

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #20 on: 12/05/2017 02:59 PM »
It was the mores of the late 50s and early 60s that..

You know, the same arguments were made for not integrating blacks into the armed forces, until Truman ordered it done and it was done.

It's a mental and moral dodge to say that some social advance could not have happened any earlier than it did because it wasn't acceptable. That's a tautology and it doesn't really explain anything at all. The reason changes happen is because people make them happen, because people force them to happen, and because some people suffer the consequences for being the first to challenge the "mores" of their day.

I'm pointing out that it is worthwhile to examine exactly what happened and to whom it happened. And I raised a point that I still think somebody needs to dig into--did any women apply for the early rounds of scientist astronaut selection and who were they and what happened to them?

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #21 on: 12/05/2017 03:51 PM »
It's a mental and moral dodge to say that some social advance could not have happened any earlier than it did because it wasn't acceptable. That's a tautology and it doesn't really explain anything at all. The reason changes happen is because people make them happen, because people force them to happen, and because some people suffer the consequences for being the first to challenge the "mores" of their day.

That's a case of arguing whether the chicken or the egg came first. Do social advances happen because someone goes against the grain and makes them happen, or do they happen because society was just naturally heading in that direction?

As things would have it, a lot of existing social mores were very rapidly overturned in the '60s-'70s and then in just a few short years, the astronaut class of '78 recruited the first black and women astronauts. But when Mercury was flying, that was a few years away from happening and most Americans still believed that women were housewives and blacks were jazz musicians and unskilled laborers.

Plus the obvious about what Doug said regarding the lack of privacy on spacecraft pre-Shuttle era.

Oh, and this photo of an Atlas missile on the assembly line shows at least two black workers. Convair gets points for their progressive hiring policies. 8)
« Last Edit: 12/05/2017 09:14 PM by WallE »

Offline Hog

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #22 on: 12/05/2017 04:29 PM »
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.
Wow, worries about infidelity and elimination hold back an entire 1/2 of the population. Quite the history of US/Western "morals" holding themselves back.   I'm sorry, but I remember having to drop trow with my fireteam partner and her doing the same.  She's yelling you got any paper?  I said no, but I got this as I ripped my olive drab field-sling in half.  I was even a gentleman and gave her the half with the least amount of CLP on it.  What's good for my gun parts, isn't great for human "parts". (and yes, it was a gun-C9 LMG/C6 GPMG-not my C7).  Heck there were times where I'd rather have her real close to me, but male or female didn't matter, so long as you had good sense and senses and were proficient with your weapons systems, we were going to get along really well.
It's amazing just how shallow the "civility" of civilization is, get some emotion and fear mixed together and its amazing what people can do to other people, or in the feeling of this post, beside one another.

Even with all the benefits that STS provided the male/female, it still took until STS-63 Discovery launched to Mir station on on Feb 3rd, 1995 for a female to Pilot with Colonel Eileen Collins, at the stick(even though Orbiter Commanders did most of the actual flying).  She was Pilot on her 1st spaceflight. She went on to again Pilot during the May 15, 1997 launch of STS-84 Atlantis again to the MIR station.   She then took the left seat, where the Commander sits for the exciting LOX low cutoff STS-93 Columbia mission launched (finally) on July 23, 1999 with the super heavyweight Chandra X-Ray observatory. This was the last STS mission to use an Inertial Upper Stage booster.
She then again was Commander for the RTF flight STS-114-Discovery which launched on July 26, 2005.

Colonel Pam Melroy, a combat veteran of GW-1 with over 200 combat hours, was Pilot in her 1st spaceflight during STS-92 which launched on October 11, 2000.
She again was Pilot for STS-112 Atlantis that launched on October 7, 2002.  For her final spaceflight, STS-120 Discovery which launched on October 23, 2007 where she and her crew delivered the Harmony Module(Node-2)

I only wish that these 2 women got to do 2 missions together, each one taking a turn as Commander with the other as Pilot.

We now have 4 people in the CSA Astronaut Corps with Jennifer Sidey and Joshua Kutryk currently Astronaut Candidates and are sitting in with the NASA Turtles(Group 22) down in Texas for training.  We now have 3 men and 1 woman in the CSA Astronaut Corps.
 
Pic #1 Harmony Node
Pic#2 CHANDRA X-Ray Observatory and her Inertial Upper Stage
Pic #3 Dr. Jennifer Sidey CSA's newest femal Astronaut Candidate
Paul

Offline the_other_Doug

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #23 on: 12/05/2017 04:32 PM »
It is also important to note that the astronaut corps served more as lines in the sand against any level of social engineering, than as great showcases for changing peoples' views on what all sorts of people ought, within approved social mores, to be allowed to do.  They were held up (specifically by the NASA PR machine) as monuments to how great American society was -- and American society meant Mom, Dad and two-point-five kids.  Mom at home raising the kids, and Dad off earning the income and, except on rare occasions, ignoring the family.

For example, at a time when the divorce rate was creeping up, and it was more and more common to find divorced people, the common understanding amongst the astronaut corps was that, whether your marriage was falling apart or not, filing for divorce meant asking to be taken out of the flight rotation.  Certainly, based on several astronaut biographies, everyone in the corps (and their families) were given to understand that this would be the case.

Blackstar seems to be holding up the "If just one person Steps Forward and Does the Right Thing" theory of history.  When, in almost all cases, the first person to Step Forward is almost always a sacrificial offering.

Even after some things become acceptable in society at large, of course, there are still major sub-cultures to whom such "advanced" thinking is nothing short of offensive.  How long after it was legal to have mixed-race marriages everywhere in the U.S. (and yes,  boys and girls, there were, in my lifetime, laws against blacks and whites marrying in some states in this country) would major TV broadcasters refuse to feature interracial couples in their programming, for fear "the entire South" would turn off their TVs and boycott the sponsors' products?

How about right up until the present day?  In other words, just how common are interracial couples on TV even today?  Very uncommon, still, even though you see it on the street every day.

And if women could be astronauts in 1959, why couldn't they be fighter pilots in Korea and Vietnam?  Because, at least in the view of the Powers That Be that decided such things, it was no more acceptable to see women killed or taken prisoner in war than it was to see them blown to smithereens on the top of an Atlas missile.  Amongst many sub-cultures, neither is yet acceptable, though it is considered perfectly acceptable for any man who is brave enough (or damn-fool enough) to do it.

So, no -- it was not a matter of "Hey, just do the Right Thing!"  At the time, the Right Thing was nowhere near as obvious is at might seem to you and me, with the benefit of hindsight.  And, to a vanishing-but-still-huge segment of society, it still isn't.
-Doug  (With my shield, not yet upon it)

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #24 on: 12/05/2017 07:08 PM »
Blackstar seems to be holding up the "If just one person Steps Forward and Does the Right Thing" theory of history. 

Nope. What I'm saying is that "it didn't happen until society was ready for it to happen" is an argument with no explanatory power at all. Why didn't it happen earlier? "Society was not ready for it to happen earlier." Why didn't it happen later? "Society was ready for it to happen at that time, not later." It's a tautological argument that does not explain differences. Furthermore, "society" is not some abstract thing that operates on its own, it consists of people. Understanding who those people were, what they did, and how it affected the outcomes is the real challenge. Unless we're going to do that, then saying "society was not ready for it to happen earlier" is akin to saying "God willed it."

Offline John-H

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #25 on: 12/05/2017 08:35 PM »
Saying "Society isn't ready for this" doesn't really explain anything, but I am at a bit of a loss trying to understand what does. Sometimes jobs become less dangerous, or less strenuous, or more pleasant, and they appeal to a different population. Sometimes ideas just become more or less fashionable. Whatever it is, it is a general shift in attitudes and not specific to astronauts, and I don't think actions by NASA alone would have made much difference one way or another.

John

Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #26 on: 12/05/2017 09:53 PM »
Saying "Society isn't ready for this" doesn't really explain anything, but I am at a bit of a loss trying to understand what does. Sometimes jobs become less dangerous, or less strenuous, or more pleasant, and they appeal to a different population. Sometimes ideas just become more or less fashionable. Whatever it is, it is a general shift in attitudes and not specific to astronauts, and I don't think actions by NASA alone would have made much difference one way or another.

The Founders considered prohibiting slavery in the Constitution, but decided against it on the grounds that the Southern states might not ratify it otherwise. Many of them believed slavery was immoral, but realized that American society was not ready to abolish it yet. Thomas Jefferson believed it would happen someday, but not in his lifetime. The point being that you can have plenty of progressive-minded people who oppose some social injustice, but they're often too far ahead of their time and society at large may be generations behind them.

Many neighborhoods up to the late '60s prohibited blacks and Jews from residing in them. The first Levittown housing development barred blacks. Although William Levitt was Jewish and could sympathize with being discriminated against, he said that he didn't have a choice and 90% of his white customers would refuse to buy a house if a black family lived in the development.

The '50s-early '60s were a low point for women's lib anyway. Some say it was a reaction against the era of suffragettes and liberated flappers in the early part of the century. Whatever the case, the idea of the June Cleaver-style housewife who baked cookies was in fashion, and the average age of marriage in the US dropped to about 19. Betty Friedan famously interviewed female college grads in 1957 and was shocked at their general indifference to world events compared with her own college class which graduated as the world was at war.

Anyway, like others have said, NASA weren't necessarily supposed to be at the forefront of civil rights and social progress, although of course they did adapt to the changing times (like I mentioned, they tolerated Jack Swigert's bachelor/swinger lifestyle which would have been unacceptable a few years earlier). They rode along with the trends, but they didn't set them and it wasn't their job to do so anyway.

Offline Blackstar

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #27 on: 12/06/2017 01:00 AM »
Whatever it is, it is a general shift in attitudes

And again, "general shift in attitudes" doesn't really explain anything. It's just a big broad brush that erases the individuals and their actions that resulted in change. Was it a "general shift in attitudes" that led to Jackie Robinson playing Major League Baseball? Considering that even after being signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers he was regularly taunted and called racist names by other players and fans, how could anybody say that there was a "general shift in attitudes" that enabled him to play? No, somebody took a risk signing him in 1947, and then Robinson took a major risk every time he walked out onto the field. Robinson's actions helped change attitudes.

So here's something more relevant to the astronaut corps: the military academies were forced by act of Congress in 1975 to accept women, and the first women cadets were accepted into West Point in 1976. That was a specific action (well, actions) and they resulted in women becoming cadets. But of course, women had been officers in the military for decades by then. NASA accepted the first women into its astronaut corps in 1978, after the West Point change. But there had been women scientists like Ride before 1978. Could they have become part of the NASA astronaut corps earlier? Why not? Why were they specifically ruled out--not "generally attitudinally" ruled out, but specifically? And if you read Mike Mullane's book, you know that he, and presumably other male astronauts, had not experienced any "general shift in attitudes" towards women. Mullane was in the same astronaut class as Ride, and he didn't think she belonged there.

I'm pointing to the requirement to not be lazy in all this and assume that things happened at a specific time because that was somehow the only time they could have happened, like it was all preordained. That's no different than saying "God willed it to happen then." And it erases the specific people and their actions from history.
« Last Edit: 12/06/2017 01:01 AM by Blackstar »

Offline Rocket Science

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #28 on: 12/06/2017 01:39 PM »
This discussion reminds a bit of the political environment surrounding the Tuskegee Airmen. You know, African-Americans were incapable of being fighter pilots etc... President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office when that all changed and thus launched the legend of the "Red Tails"...
http://www.redtail.org/the-airmen-a-brief-history/
http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/tuskegee-airmen
Supposedly these guys couldn't fly and fight...
« Last Edit: 12/06/2017 01:45 PM by Rocket Science »
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Offline zubenelgenubi

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #29 on: 12/06/2017 09:02 PM »
I'm pointing out that it is worthwhile to examine exactly what happened and to whom it happened. And I raised a point that I still think somebody needs to dig into--did any women apply for the early rounds of scientist astronaut selection and who were they and what happened to them?

If there are any budding historians of space history perusing this forum, please take note ^^^.

I, too, think this is an Important Question that needs researching, followed by publication.

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« Last Edit: 12/06/2017 09:04 PM by zubenelgenubi »
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Offline WallE

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Re: The Mercury 13: setting the story straight
« Reply #30 on: 12/07/2017 12:52 AM »
So here's something more relevant to the astronaut corps: the military academies were forced by act of Congress in 1975 to accept women, and the first women cadets were accepted into West Point in 1976. That was a specific action (well, actions) and they resulted in women becoming cadets. But of course, women had been officers in the military for decades by then. NASA accepted the first women into its astronaut corps in 1978, after the West Point change. But there had been women scientists like Ride before 1978. Could they have become part of the NASA astronaut corps earlier? Why not? Why were they specifically ruled out--not "generally attitudinally" ruled out, but specifically?

We did discuss at length in here the state of gender relations in America during the 1945-65 period and why it wasn't conductive to women going in space. But if you want to dismiss that as meaningless foofaraw, then there's still the very obvious, practical issues of Gemini and Apollo capsules having little to no privacy and it being pretty unreasonable to expect opposite-gender astronauts to carry out bathroom duties in a spacecraft with the approximate space of a car's front seats.

And if you read Mike Mullane's book, you know that he, and presumably other male astronauts, had not experienced any "general shift in attitudes" towards women. Mullane was in the same astronaut class as Ride, and he didn't think she belonged there.

The male astronauts in the class of '78 for the most part had no objection to women in the astronaut corps, although the longtime veterans found it hard to get used to. And in regards to Mike Mullane, he has always spoken highly of Rhea Seddon and Judy Resnik (they were rumored to be romantically involved, but Mullane denies it). It was really only Sally Ride that he had a disliking of, he called her a humorless feminist.

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