Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Too much of The Right Stuff

I pride myself in knowing everything about everything. As a card-carrying member of the Prissy Little Smarty Pants Club, I'm always thrown for a loop when I discover some important nugget of news that was heretofore hidden from me.

Did anybody else know that 13 female pilots were trained and proved themselves fit as Mercury astronauts back in the late 1950s? How did I miss this?

According to a CNN story, the women underwent the same rigorous medical tests as the guy astronauts and proved themselves as good, if not better, than their male counterparts. One Dr. Donald Kilgore, who helped test the potential space-people between 1959 and 1961, claims that because women were physically smaller, lighter, and would take up less oxygen, they were well-suited for the space program.

All the women were ace pilots - that goes without saying. But they really proved themselves during the extreme medical tests (like squirting ice water in their ear canals to induce vertigo). Thirteen of the original 25 female pilots passed with flying colors. No prob.

Except for one little detail. NASA required that astronauts be military test pilots. A military test pilot had to have graduated from one of the official test pilot schools. And - well, you guessed it. At the time no women allowed in the test pilot schools. Doh!

Fortunately, these incredible astro-chicks are finally being recognized almost 50 years later. They had The Right Stuff, all right. Plus ovaries. Thanks, chicks - can't wait to see the movie about this someday!

Learn somethin' new every day.


Liz said...

Ah, don't talk to me about squirting stuff in your ears!

Good for them, but you have to wonder why they were tested if the authorities knew all along that there was one crucial test they would necessarily fail? Was it as a token gesture to womankind? Keep the little women happy.

MaryB said...

Good point, Liz, except I don't think they knew what they were looking for (or needed) in the early days of the space program. (Remember sending monkeys and dogs into space?) Of course the Russians put a woman into space very early on. I don't think NASA was doing "token gestures to womankind" in those days - who knows the reason? Something tells me the rules probably changed (conveniently) after the training process was put into place.

Elsie said...

Well, Smarty Pants (nothin' prissy about you I think), you certainly shed some light on this for me. I didn't know anything about it either.

I think perhaps there were no women for fear that one of them might fall for one of the men, lose her mind, take a wild diaper-wearing ride...oh wait...then again, there will surely be a movie about THAT.