“Their original group was thirteen. [...]
It was 1969 when they took their shot at being astronauts. Back then, women weren’t allowed to rent a car or take out a loan from the bank without a man’s signature; they could not play on a professional sports team at all. They couldn’t report the news on television or run in a city marathon or serve as police officers. They weren’t allowed to fly jets, either. And these are just some of the bigger examples.
None of that kept these women from trying to be astronauts. They were too determined. Every single one of them shared a common dream from the time they were little girls: they were all born to fly.” (2-5)
Tanya Lee Stone’s phenomenal and engaging new book Almost Astronauts has had several reviews, and I’ve been wanting to read this book ever since I’ve heard about it. The book tells a story that has gotten almost no publicity prior to this book. In a keyword search “mercury 13″ of my library’s holdings, there is one adult book published in 2003 titled The Mercury 13 : the Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight, by Martha Ackmann. You can bet this has been added to my list to read. Searching “women astronauts” brings up those two books and biographies on Sally Ride, Shannon Lucid, Mae Jemison, and Ellen Ochoa. I had never heard of any of the Mercury 13 women, yet they are trailblazers in the same manner as Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride and the WASPS.
Jerri Cobb was the first, undergoing three phases of astronaut testing to prove that women were capble of withstanding space travel. Twelve more women followed, making thirteen total. Although Stone writes that the women were “never part of the Mercury space program,” they underwent the same tests as the male pilots, many times surpassing their results, and quite often had more experience flying then their male counterparts. When the news became public however, NASA, the navy, the government, and even other female pilots became vocal about the impossibility of these women ever becoming female astronauts, called by the media “Astronettes.” It’s disheartening that although many of these women went on to continue careers in aviation, not one of the original 13 made it into space. The story is placed in context of the time, bringing to light what the women had to endure in the face of insurmountable prejudices. The book includes an author’s note, appendix, further reading, webliography, bibliography including books, articles, documents, and videos, source notes, photography credits, and an index, making it a well researched and well cited book.
This is my first post in honor of Nonfiction Mondays. Nonfiction Monday is meant to encourage blogging nonfiction books, which I definitely need to read more often.
EDIT: Because of Martin Luther King Day festivities at my library, I missed the ALA Awards announcement. Apparently, this book won the 2010 Robert F. Sibert Medal for most distinguished informational book for children. How cool is that?!