This month's excerpt from American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley highlights the mindset of Wernher von Braun, who defected to the United States at the end of World War II. He and his team developed the V-2 rocket, the first ballistic missile. They were sent to support America's rocket development at White Sands Proving Ground in southeast New Mexico.

Wernher von Braun had made his first public speech in America, to the El Paso Rotary Club [in January 1947]. "It seems to be a law of nature that all novel technical inventions that have a future for civilian use start out as weapons," he said, before going to predict a future where rocketry took its proper role of propelling satellites and space stations into orbit and enabling missions to the moon and beyond. Von Braun got a thundering ovation and was cheered by the support, but as usual, his ideas were ahead of their time. Before his space dreams could take flight, rocketry would enter new and even more dangerous territory with the postwar development of the first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The only sensible thing for von Braun to do was, once again, to lie low and develop his ballistic missiles in Fort Bliss-White Sands for U.S. Army purposes while keeping a moon and Mars voyage as a long-term interior motive. In 1946, the Army Signal Corps succeeded in bouncing radio waves off the moon and received the reflected signals back on Earth. This was a stunning achievement, for it established that radio transmissions through space and back to Earth were possible. This public discovery didn't mean anything to [John F.] Kennedy, running for Congress. But to von Braun, it was proof that such signals could in the very near future be adapted to control manned and unmanned spacecraft alike.

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 action 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.

---
Project Manhigh was based at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the 1950s. A single-man gondola carried into the stratosphere was used to evaluate the ability to construct a life-supporting spacecraft and the ability of a human to survive spaceflight. Dr. David Simons piloted Manhigh II, the most successful of the three flights. The following excerpt is from
The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space by Craig Ryan. It is a continuation of last month's Voices.

But the sensation of glory and the satisfaction in a job well done were short-lived. Simons found himself increasingly annoyed with the fickle attentions of the press. they did not understand the real significance of what he had done, nor why he had done it. And because of their professional cynicism, they were incapable of really appreciating it. One of the reporters at the postflight press conference went sniffing for an angle: "Was it a spiritual experience?"

Simons measured his words and spoke as a scientist: "I have a deep regard for the steady, progressive march of mankind. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to move a step forward in the gradual pushing back of the frontier of progress. My spiritual experience here was tantamount to that of a biologist looking into a microscope and discovering a new virus."

The reporter challenged the response, accusing Simons of "humanism."

"To me," Simons said, "this is God: to contribute to the progress of mankind." ...

Simons was especially angered by the implication that the unstated goal of Project Manhigh from the beginning, had been to set an altitude record. He bristled at the suggestion that he was in it for personal glory. "I had a profound resentment toward people who thought the scientific part of it was an excuse," he would say. "I felt maligned."

---
Project Manhigh was based at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the 1950s. A single-man gondola carried into the stratosphere was used to evaluate the ability to construct a life-supporting spacecraft and the ability of a human to survive spaceflight. Dr. David Simons piloted Manhigh II, the most successful of the three flights. The following excerpt is from
The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space by Craig Ryan:

On August 24, 1957, Lt. Gen. Samuel E. Anderson, commander of the Air Research and Devleopment Command (ARDC), pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on David Simons in a ceremony in Baltimore. The citation referred to a "valor above and beyond the call of duty ... under conditions never before experienced." For a brief period following the flight the Manhigh crew were the darlings of the press. Simons was the "daring young Air Force officer" and "the gallant major." An op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "The First Space Man" suggested that Manhigh II's pilot had rised to the rarefied heights as a representative not of his branch of the service or his country, but of all mankind: he "made the trip for all of us. Organized society took this step toward space as it has taken others in the past and will take many more." ... Manhigh had proved, [Colonel John] Stapp announced, that human beings could live outside of Earth's atmosphere. And David simons had proved his mettle as an aeronaut: "He was sort of a one-man band," Stapp explained, "keeping alive with one hand, watching dials, conducting experiments, and snappling camers with the other. Dave could sit in a gondola, handle 20 emergencies, and not die at once."
New Mexico's
Space Voices Archives

New Mexico's Space Voices Archives
2021 Voices entries will be archived here each month.

2021 Voices entries will be archived here each month.
This month's excerpt from American Moonshot by Douglas Brinkley highlights the mindset of Wernher von Braun, who defected to the United States at the end of World War II. He and his team developed the V-2 rocket, the first ballistic missile. They were sent to support America's rocket development at White Sands Proving Ground in southeast New Mexico.

Wernher von Braun had made his first public speech in America, to the El Paso Rotary Club [in January 1947]. "It seems to be a law of nature that all novel technical inventions that have a future for civilian use start out as weapons," he said, before going to predict a future where rocketry took its proper role of propelling satellites and space stations into orbit and enabling missions to the moon and beyond. Von Braun got a thundering ovation and was cheered by the support, but as usual, his ideas were ahead of their time. Before his space dreams could take flight, rocketry would enter new and even more dangerous territory with the postwar development of the first intercontinental ballistic missiles.

The only sensible thing for von Braun to do was, once again, to lie low and develop his ballistic missiles in Fort Bliss-White Sands for U.S. Army purposes while keeping a moon and Mars voyage as a long-term interior motive. In 1946, the Army Signal Corps succeeded in bouncing radio waves off the moon and received the reflected signals back on Earth. This was a stunning achievement, for it established that radio transmissions through space and back to Earth were possible. This public discovery didn't mean anything to [John F.] Kennedy, running for Congress. But to von Braun, it was proof that such signals could in the very near future be adapted to control manned and unmanned spacecraft alike.


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 action 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.
---Project Manhigh was based at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the 1950s. A single-man gondola carried into the stratosphere was used to evaluate the ability to construct a life-supporting spacecraft and the ability of a human to survive spaceflight. Dr. David Simons piloted Manhigh II, the most successful of the three flights. The following excerpt is from
The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space by Craig Ryan. It is a continuation of last month's Voices.

But the sensation of glory and the satisfaction in a job well done were short-lived. Simons found himself increasingly annoyed with the fickle attentions of the press. they did not understand the real significance of what he had done, nor why he had done it. And because of their professional cynicism, they were incapable of really appreciating it. One of the reporters at the postflight press conference went sniffing for an angle: "Was it a spiritual experience?"

Simons measured his words and spoke as a scientist: "I have a deep regard for the steady, progressive march of mankind. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be able to move a step forward in the gradual pushing back of the frontier of progress. My spiritual experience here was tantamount to that of a biologist looking into a microscope and discovering a new virus."

The reporter challenged the response, accusing Simons of "humanism."

"To me," Simons said, "this is God: to contribute to the progress of mankind." ...

Simons was especially angered by the implication that the unstated goal of Project Manhigh from the beginning, had been to set an altitude record. He bristled at the suggestion that he was in it for personal glory. "I had a profound resentment toward people who thought the scientific part of it was an excuse," he would say. "I felt maligned."

---

Project Manhigh was based at the Aeromedical Field Laboratory at Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, in the 1950s. A single-man gondola carried into the stratosphere was used to evaluate the ability to construct a life-supporting spacecraft and the ability of a human to survive spaceflight. Dr. David Simons piloted Manhigh II, the most successful of the three flights. The following excerpt is from
The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space by Craig Ryan:

On August 24, 1957, Lt. Gen. Samuel E. Anderson, commander of the Air Research and Devleopment Command (ARDC), pinned the Distinguished Flying Cross on David Simons in a ceremony in Baltimore. The citation referred to a "valor above and beyond the call of duty ... under conditions never before experienced." For a brief period following the flight the Manhigh crew were the darlings of the press. Simons was the "daring young Air Force officer" and "the gallant major." An op-ed piece in the New York Times titled "The First Space Man" suggested that Manhigh II's pilot had rised to the rarefied heights as a representative not of his branch of the service or his country, but of all mankind: he "made the trip for all of us. Organized society took this step toward space as it has taken others in the past and will take many more." ... Manhigh had proved, [Colonel John] Stapp announced, that human beings could live outside of Earth's atmosphere. And David simons had proved his mettle as an aeronaut: "He was sort of a one-man band," Stapp explained, "keeping alive with one hand, watching dials, conducting experiments, and snappling camers with the other. Dave could sit in a gondola, handle 20 emergencies, and not die at once."
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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 2010-2020.