You could have heard of the “Mercury 13,” however what actually occurred with the ladies who wished to be the primary feminine astronauts?
In her new ebook, “Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Spaceflight” (Grand Central Publishing, 2021), writer and spaceflight historian Amy Shira Teitel delivers a twin biography that peels again a long time of historical past to disclose the true tales of Jerrie Cobb and Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, two ladies who fought to turn into America’s first feminine astronauts.
Cochran was a record-setting pilot who was the primary girl to interrupt the sound barrier who was shut mates with Amelia Earhart and even ran her personal cosmetics firm; Cobb, in the meantime, was 25 years youthful, additionally setting data as a pilot and taking astronaut medical exams.
Combating for House (Grand Central Publishing 2021). $30 at Amazon.
House historian and writer Amy Shira Teitel discusses the historical past of feminine astronauts and the ladies who led the way in which to house.VIEW DEAL ON
Their tales revolve across the famed story of the “Mercury 13,” a reputation given to 13 ladies who, through the time that NASA was creating its Mercury program’s seven first-ever astronauts within the mid-20th century, underwent the identical medical testing as NASA’s trainee astronauts. These exams had been carried out by NASA doctor Randy Lovelace, who designed and carried out the exams for NASA’s budding astronauts as nicely.
In “Combating for House,” Teitel washes away the glamorized tales of the Mercury 13 and tells the story of what actually occurred, utilizing historic paperwork like notes handwritten by the ladies themselves. She additionally reveals the true story of Cochran, who is commonly labeled a “villain,” as she testified in opposition to the concept of a ladies in house program in a subcommittee listening to that finally led to the top of the “Mercury 13.”
House.com sat down with Teitel to speak about writing the ebook; this interview has been edited for size and readability. You will discover the ebook on Amazon here.
House.com: What impressed you to focus on this time in historical past?
Amy Shira Teitel: I really feel just like the story of the quote-unquote “Mercury 13” will get picked up pretty frequently, like each 5 to 6 years somebody hears about it [and] will get actually enthusiastic about this wonderful story of those 13 certified ladies who’re stored out of spaceflight purely due to their gender. And the extra I learn into the story … I used to be like, this does not actually add up. It wasn’t so simple as simply gender.
The villain of Jackie Cochran did not make any sense. Like, who is that this girl who’s probably the most adorned pilot of the 20th century who only for no obvious cause, fights in opposition to ladies’s inclusion within the astronaut program on the time? There’s one thing lacking. She’s like a Disney villain with no backstory. So after I began form of going into the NASA facet of issues and understanding what the house company was doing on the time and what Jackie’s function was, I used to be like, “Oh,” as a result of the story has been advised flawed each time.
I actually wish to form of take the story in a distinct route to … it sounds dangerous, however make it not the feminist epic individuals need it to be, however make it the human story that it’s. And present [that] it is a flawed, messy story as a result of guess what, people are flawed and messy. And historical past is rarely only a neat, good story.
House.com: What are a few of the largest misconceptions in regards to the Mercury 13?
Teitel: I really feel like the most important false impression is the truth that it existed. As a result of everybody desires it to be that the Mercury 13 was this group just like the Mercury 7, that [it] was like a agency unit, that they had been coaching, they had been doing all these things collectively. And none of that was true. Even the title “Mercury 13,” was conceived of by a Hollywood producer within the ’90s … as a result of it sounds nice. They had been by no means a gaggle.
I discovered all of those letters that the ladies wrote to one another and wrote to Jackie, to Jerrie. They every had totally different concepts and totally different understandings of what this system even was … [they] did not actually suppose it was something extra than simply some medical exams.
Making an attempt to place all of it collectively … that is such a extra difficult and extra nuanced story. Having the ability to hear from the ladies themselves, be it by means of an interview achieved on the time, information or articles [or] letters, having the ability to allow them to communicate for themselves [with these documents] was form of the most effective half about it.
They weren’t certified as a result of qualifications on the time had been very strict … [NASA] wasn’t discriminating in opposition to ladies, it was discriminating in opposition to like 99.9% of the inhabitants. You bought to keep in mind that on the time, nobody knew what is going on to occur in house. So [NASA thought] let’s give the most effective shot to who will die the least. And take a look at pilots had been the closest Earthly job they considered to being an astronaut, and that that excluded ladies, and that is a product of its time, that is not a product of NASA not contemplating ladies.
House.com: Jackie Cochran is a larger-than-life legend, what was she actually like?
Teitel: Her function within the typical retellings could be very a lot the villain … everybody goes to this congressional subcommittee listening to the place she testified that it was not the best time for girls to hitch the astronaut corps. She was truly desirous to do a giant testing program on ladies to collect all the information, as a result of she additionally form of understood that it wasn’t the best time for girls as a result of there was a lot unknown. She additionally had labored inside methods for ages; she knew these things.
Additionally, I feel there was positively a component that she and Jerrie didn’t get alongside, to cite Milhouse Van Houten [of the Simpsons], they had been two positively charged ions. However Jackie’s story is wonderful … after I began studying about her, I used to be like, “Why doen’t everyone find out about this girl?”
She simply made her life precisely what she wished it to be.
She held extra data than any pilot of the 20th century when she died in 1980; she was the primary girl to fly sooner than the pace of sound; she was the primary girl in America to fly a jet; Chuck Yeager taught her as a result of they had been buds; she saved [President] Lyndon B. Johnson’s life sooner or later; [President Dwight] Eisenhower was a detailed private pal; she led the ladies’s Air Power service pilots within the second World Battle, she was the primary girl to fly a bomber abroad; [she was the] first girl to win the Bendix Air Race alone [Bendix is a U.S. aeronautical racing trophy]; [she was] mates with Amelia Earhart.
Additionally, my favourite factor is that she additionally owned a cosmetics empire … [she] refused to compromise like “no, I can do I can fly these, like, insane planes and practically die and in addition take pleasure in lipstick.” As a result of I really feel like fashionable ladies are nonetheless advised to decide on between “try to be in science” or “try to be female.”
Having Jackie as this uncompromising, actually tough, robust girl — for all of her flaws, I discover her to be such an inspiring determine to have in there. And I simply beloved digging out the entire intricacies of her life. And her backstory … she lied about it in her personal memoirs, as a result of she stated she was an orphan as a result of she did not wish to acknowledge that she had come from a tough previous. She by no means revealed her actual title, she simply form of selected her title for herself.
House.com: What about Jerrie Cobb?
Teitel: The ebook is mostly a twin biography. It is weighted to Jackie at first, as a result of Jackie is 25 years older, however as quickly as Jerrie is 12, her narrative is available in and begins to form of weave collectively.
I’ve turn into that particular person the place after I see posts about how Jerrie Cobb was the “first certified girl astronaut within the nation” simply units my enamel on edge. She was not. And what Randy Lovelace was writing to different individuals … these two issues didn’t line up. You begin to see like, okay, Jerrie was an ideal pilot, she realized to fly, she pursued making flying her full-time vocation, and did it, which could be very onerous for a lady within the ’50s to turn into an expert pilot.
However she form of purchased into her personal fame just a little bit and actually pushed that picture. I do not completely understand how she ended up taking the astronaut exams on the Lovelace clinic, as a result of the way in which she tells it, she met Randy Lovelace who invited her to do it, however the way in which another individuals inform it in correspondences afterward, she went and provided herself as a feminine volunteer. So it is unclear. And nobody is aware of as a result of everybody concerned is lifeless.
I put the hypothesis within the writer’s word after which the epilogue on the finish, however I form of let her story communicate as a result of I wished to be genuine to how she noticed herself. However she took the medical exams and when Randy Lovelace introduced that a girl took the medical exams that an astronaut did, and the media says, “There is a girl astronaut,” Jerrie by no means went and stated, “Oh, no, I did not. I am not certified.”
That is why the astronaut qualification half is a crucial a part of the story … Jerrie had by no means flown a jet. So she’s going round like, “I am simply as certified,” however no, you are not, the bottom qualification is jet take a look at pilot due to how briskly issues go. I wish to let her story communicate for itself, however give her a dose of actuality.
On the finish of the day, I do love that she believes so strongly in her personal want to do that, that she knocked on doorways at NASA. And he or she took all of it the way in which to Congress. I imply, that is an admirable battle, even when she was not certified … she actually went for it. And you have to admire that, you have actually obtained to admire that.
House.com: What actually occurred between Cobb and Cochran?
Teitel: They cross paths. I by no means wished to drive something, clearly, as a result of I am writing historical past. [But] hey did naturally intersect … You’ve gotten these pure factors the place they cross paths … you begin to piece collectively once they’re in the identical metropolis. However you possibly can see from Jackie’s itinerary notes that she didn’t attend Jerry’s occasions.
You’ve gotten the letters of the 2 of them … and there is references to them assembly earlier than John Glenn’s flight, they’re truly each on the launch in 19TK. So there, they begin over this situation of whether or not or not there was a ladies’s astronaut program, whether or not there needs to be a ladies’s astronaut program.
Jerrie’s within the media doing all these things. Jackie’s the foremost girl pilot within the nation, so everybody’s going to her for solutions. She’s additionally shut private mates with Randy Lovelace and her husband, Floyd Odom is bankrolling the muse that’s doing the medical exams. So nothing is going on that they do not know about. And Jackie’s additionally paying for different ladies to do the medical testing.
So the 2 of them find yourself overlapping and speaking over one another in a collection of letters the place neither of them are actually listening to the opposite one … I’ve solely discovered like a handful of moments the place they really had been in the identical place. And in some instances, they didn’t speak.
There are very unusual pictures of them form of standing away from one another. Like, “that is superb, I am superb.” After which they wrote letters following up explosive conversations over dinner. So their paths crossed, unwittingly, virtually, it is like they did not wish to need to take care of one another in particular person. However they after all did.
House.com: How do you suppose individuals who wish to maintain on to an idealized picture of the Mercury 13 will take care of this telling of occasions? As a result of, whereas it did not occur like how some say, I do not suppose that it takes away from the feminist narrative that these had been unimaginable ladies.
Teitel: Placing this story throughout the context of actuality shouldn’t be meant to remove from that. If something, I feel it truly highlights simply how a lot they had been preventing up in opposition to to simply do basic items, like have a job.
I’ve already seen just a little little bit of pushback from individuals who suppose it is unfair to Jerrie to painting her like that. And I am sitting there pondering like, nicely, she stated it, not me, just like the letters say this. So … There are lots of people I feel [who] are uncomfortable, as a result of it does form of break the picture. They usually need it to be that fairy story the place it is like, ladies are wonderful and stored out due to their gender. And that is as a result of that could be very true in the present day, that is nonetheless a factor, we’re nonetheless coping with systemic sexism.
However it’s a type of issues the place I attempted to put in writing every part. There’s an intensive notes part so you possibly can see the place each single piece got here from, to indicate folks that the true story does have parts which are equally inspiring as the unique story. I feel persons are uncomfortable with that. And I like form of difficult you to say, “Nicely, why does it need to be excellent?”
They’re simply individuals … nobody ever desires to speak in regards to the unfavorable parts, however I favored bringing all that out to indicate how simply regular and human all of it is.
House.com: For those who might have readers take something away from this ebook, what would that be?
Teitel: Folks have a tough relationship with historical past … There is a little bit of that knee-jerk response to go utterly the opposite means and say, “Nicely, we had been tremendous sexist than, so let’s speak about solely ladies’s stuff now,” which to me … I discover it is simply reinforcing ladies as “different.” Like, should you’re speaking in regards to the first girl astronaut to do “x,” it is like or [you could just say] “excellent pilot-turned-astronaut does job? “
Why are you main along with her biology? You by no means have, “Excellent man does this,” males do not lead with their biology.
One of many issues I need individuals to remove from this, along with form of simply the inspiration of those unimaginable figures, is how a lot not one of the ladies on this ebook are outlined by their biology. They’re ladies, and their femininity comes out in numerous methods, whether or not it is by means of relationships, whether or not it is by means of type, these parts are current as a result of they’re current for them. However each one among them was a pilot first, or a author first, as a result of none of those ladies outlined themselves by their biology. And I feel we have to take our cues from them in writing about them. They do not lead with it, do not lead with it.
And I feel that is only a lesson that’s equally relevant to ladies now. If the headline of the story of somebody doing one thing shouldn’t be their biology, do not drive that narrative on them, as a result of then it simply takes away from who they’re and who they see themselves as authentically.
E-mail Chelsea Gohd at firstname.lastname@example.org or observe her on Twitter @chelsea_gohd. Observe us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Fb.