Voices from New Mexico's Space History
Different quotations from New Mexico space pioneers appear on this page monthly. This is the March 2021 installment.
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In connection with Women's History Month, this excerpt from American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley recognizes the Mercury 13, the first group of women to challenge NASA to consider the possibility of female astronauts. With the passing of Rhea Hurrle Woltman on February 15, 2021, only two of the Mercury 13 are still grounded on this Earth. They are Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen and Wally Funk.

While African Americans' struggle for civil rights was beginning to shake the pillars of Jim Crow, female pilots were struggling for equality in their fight against NASA's patriarchy. They did, however, have one offbeat ally in Dr. William "Randy" Lovelace II. An aeromedicine pioneer, Lovelace was chairman of the Special Advisory Committee on Life Science and from his office in New Mexico had conducted the intensive medical examinations that had helped winnow down the first class of likely astronauts to the final Mercury Seven. although holding what were then traditional views on women's roles in American society, Lovelace believed that women were better equipped physiologically for NASA space travel because they were, on average, shorter and smaller than men, needed less food and oxygen, and had better blood circulation and fewer cardiac problems.

After meeting American aviator Geraldyne "Jerrie" Cobb in 1959, Lovelace invited her to take the same tests as the Mercury astronauts---and was amazed at her aptitude.... Intrigued as to whether Cobb was an anomaly, Lovelace accepted a financial gift from the fabled pilot Jackie Cochran...to examine eighteen other seasoned female pilots at his New Mexico clinic for secret testing.... the top twelve, along with Jerrie Cobb, were [later] christened the "Mercury 13."...

[W]hen NASA leadership learned of the experiment, they made it abundantly clear that the agency wasn't going to employ women astronauts. The impetus for NASA's decision was [President John] Kennedy's May 25, 1961, moonshot announcement, and [NASA Administrator James] Webb's belief that all the agency's astronaut-training energy had to be targeted toward that lunar objective. In other words, it wasn't the time for a shift in gender....

Frustrated that NASA had flummoxed his Mercury 13 project, Lovelace kept fighting a rearguard actin from his home in New Mexico, hoping for the inclusion of a woman astronaut on the Gemini roster. But in December 1965, he and his wife were killed in a plane crash, depriving the Mercury 13 of their most devoted advocate. It would be nearly twenty years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, lifting off aboard the Space Shuttle flight STS-7---the Challenger---on June 13, 1983.



See previously featured quotes on the following pages:

      Voices Archives
for the current year
        2020 Voices Archives
        2019 Voices Archives
        2018 Voices Archives
        [2017 Voices Archives were lost in a computer crash]
        2016 Voices Archives
        2015 Voices Archives
        2014 Voices Archives
        2013 Voices Archives
        2012 Voices Archives
        2011 Voices Archives


Photo Credits
Robert Goddard towing one of his rockets to the launch site near Roswell about 1931, courtesy of NASA.

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo at Spaceport America runway dedication flyover, photo by Loretta Hall.


Unless otherwise credited, all material on this site is
© Loretta Hall 2010-2021.

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For more information about New Mexico's contributions to space exploration, visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
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For more information about New Mexico's contributions to space exploration, visit the New Mexico Museum of Space History.
In connection with Women's History Month, this excerpt from American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley recognizes the Mercury 13, the first group of women to challenge NASA to consider the possibility of female astronauts. With the passing of Rhea Hurrle Woltman on February 15, 2021, only two of the Mercury 13 are still grounded on this Earth. They are Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen and Wally Funk.

While African Americans' struggle for civil rights was beginning to shake the pillars of Jim Crow, female pilots were struggling for equality in their fight against NASA's patriarchy. They did, however, have one offbeat ally in Dr. William "Randy" Lovelace II. An aeromedicine pioneer, Lovelace was chairman of the Special Advisory Committee on Life Science and from his office in New Mexico had conducted the intensive medical examinations that had helped winnow down the first class of likely astronauts to the final Mercury Seven. although holding what were then traditional views on women's roles in American society, Lovelace believed that women were better equipped physiologically for NASA space travel because they were, on average, shorter and smaller than men, needed less food and oxygen, and had better blood circulation and fewer cardiac problems.

After meeting American aviator Geraldyne "Jerrie" Cobb in 1959, Lovelace invited her to take the same tests as the Mercury astronauts---and was amazed at her aptitude.... Intrigued as to whether Cobb was an anomaly, Lovelace accepted a financial gift from the fabled pilot Jackie Cochran...to examine eighteen other seasoned female pilots at his New Mexico clinic for secret testing.... the top twelve, along with Jerrie Cobb, were [later] christened the "Mercury 13."...

[W]hen NASA leadership learned of the experiment, they made it abundantly clear that the agency wasn't going to employ women astronauts. The impetus for NASA's decision was [President John] Kennedy's May 25, 1961, moonshot announcement, and [NASA Administrator James] Webb's belief that all the agency's astronaut-training energy had to be targeted toward that lunar objective. In other words, it wasn't the time for a shift in gender....

Frustrated that NASA had flummoxed his Mercury 13 project, Lovelace kept fighting a rearguard actin from his home in New Mexico, hoping for the inclusion of a woman astronaut on the Gemini roster. But in December 1965, he and his wife were killed in a plane crash, depriving the Mercury 13 of their most devoted advocate. It would be nearly twenty years before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, lifting off aboard the Space Shuttle flight STS-7---the Challenger---on June 13, 1983.



See previously featured quotes on the following pages:
Voices Archives for the current year
2020 Voices Archives
2019 Voices Archives
2018 Voices Archives
[Voices Archives from 2017 were lost in a computer crash]
2016 Voices Archives
2015 Voices Archives
2014 Voices Archives
2013 Voices Archives
2012 Voices Archives
2011 Voices Archives


Photo Credits
Robert Goddard towing one of his rockets to the launch site near Roswell about 1931, courtesy of NASA.

WhiteKnightTwo carrying SpaceShipTwo at Spaceport America runway dedication flyover, photo by Loretta Hall.


Unless otherwise credited, all material on this site is © Loretta Hall 2010-2021.

Voices from New Mexico's Space History
Different quotations from New Mexico space pioneers appear on this page monthly. This is the March 2021 installment.