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The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight [Hardcover]

by Martha Ackmann, Lynn Sherr
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 27, 2003 0375507442 978-0375507441 1st
In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Foundation as did the Mercury 7 astronauts, but they were summarily dismissed by the boys’ club at NASA and on Capitol Hill. The USSR sent its first woman into space in 1963; the United States did not follow suit for another twenty years.

For the first time, Martha Ackmann tells the story of the dramatic events surrounding these thirteen remarkable women, all crackerjack pilots and patriots who sometimes sacrificed jobs and marriages for a chance to participate in America’s space race against the Soviet Union. In addition to talking extensively to these women, Ackmann interviewed Chuck Yeager, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, and others at NASA and in the White House with firsthand knowledge of the program, and includes here never-before-seen photographs of the Mercury 13 passing their Lovelace tests.

Despite the crushing disappointment of watching their dreams being derailed, the Mercury 13 went on to extraordinary achievement in their lives: Jerrie Cobb, who began flying when she was so small she had to sit on pillows to see out of the cockpit, dedicated her life to flying solo missions to the Amazon rain forest; Wally Funk, who talked her way into the Lovelace trials, went on to become one of the first female FAA investigators; Janey Hart, mother of eight and, at age forty, the oldest astronaut candidate, had the political savvy to steer the women through congressional hearings and later helped found the National Organization for Women.

A provocative tribute to these extraordinary women, The Mercury 13 is an unforgettable story of determination, resilience, and inextinguishable hope.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In dynamic prose, Ackmann, senior lecturer in women's studies at Mount Holyoke College, relates the story of 13 female pilots who fought to become part of the nation's space program at its inception. Their tale is uplifting, a narrative of their dedication-perhaps obsession might be a better word-and sacrifice in an attempt to aid the nation in the space race against the Soviets and to experience the thrill of space flight. The story is also a depressing indictment of the rampant sexism that kept them from achieving their goal and kept the country from making productive use of their considerable talents. These 13 women, among the most accomplished pilots in the world at the time, went through many of the same challenging, even excruciating tests undergone by NASA's original seven male astronauts but, unlike the latter, the women did so in relative obscurity and often against the express wishes of all arms of the nascent space program. That each woman passed all the tests, often with scores exceeding those of the males, carried absolutely no weight with an entrenched bureaucracy. Ackmann has done a magnificent job of gathering information, conducting interviews and weaving the strands into an utterly compelling book that deserves to be widely read well beyond the circles of the usual readers about the space program. 16 pages of photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School-In the early days of the space race, women were barred from U.S. astronaut training, but some questioned the wisdom of this policy. At the Lovelace Foundation, in a secret "girl astronaut program," a select group of female pilots underwent the same comprehensive battery of psychological and physical tests required of male candidates. Now known as the Mercury 13, these women had many aviation honors, interesting lives, and (as shown in several well-chosen black-and-white photographs) great charm. Most made crushing sacrifices to prove they had "the will, the ability and the courage" to fly in space but, despite their resounding success, received no recognition. This account finds dramatic structure in the divergent personal and political paths of two of the century's greatest female pilots, Jerrie Cobb and Jackie Cochran. Cobb, the first to be chosen for testing, helped pick subsequent participants and ultimately became a champion of their cause in the political arena. The older and more influential Cochran had opened doors to female pilots in the past, but effectively opposed female participation in the space program. Once the battle was lost in Congress, it was another 40 years before a woman finally commanded a space flight. Mercury 13 is both an outstanding work of research and an exceptionally readable and well-told story. Readers will gain new perspectives on space, medicine, women, and American culture, and will appreciate the magnitude of what was lost when the women were grounded.
Christine C. Menefee, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507441
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #977,006 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Martha Ackmann tells dynamic stories of American women who've broken barriers, fought against the status quo, dreamed big dreams, and changed America. She is the author of "Curveball: The Remarkable Story of Toni Stone, the First Woman to Play Professional Baseball in the Negro League" and "The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight." Martha's talks have inspired audiences from scientists at Kennedy Space Center to women baseball players from the hit movie, "A League of Their Own." She has appeared on the "Today" show, CBS, CNN, the BBC and NPR. Her columns on politics, women's history, sports and aviation have appeared in many publications, including "The New York Times," the "Los Angeles Times," the "Chicago Tribune" and


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful detail, but not the best book on the subject. February 1, 2008
I am an admirer of this fascinatingly readable, lucid and scholarly book, with some very interesting stories of intriguing people. However I found a much superior assessment of the "Mercury 13" program in Burgess and French's book Into That Silent Sea: Trailblazers of the Space Era, 1961-1965 (Outward Odyssey: A People's History of S). In one extraordinary chapter, they capture the true cultural, historical and social context of this program far better than this entire book-length treatment. They also contrast the Soviet women in space program against American efforts far better.

Nevertheless, I would still recommend this book as a very interesting read into a fascinating time in American history, and congratulate the author on her impressive research, including the fullest personal interviewing with the original candidates ever undertaken.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars All systems go! June 19, 2003
Here's a book that has potential to fuel a few debates. Written by Martha Ackmann, a professor of Women's Studies at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, the topic hits an unexpected intersection of interests: Early days of manned space flight at NASA, and women's rights.
Most readers won't have heard of The Mercury 13, an unofficial group of stalwart women airplane pilots, all tested for potential to become astronauts by the private Lovelace Foundation at the dawn of the space race. While national focus lasered on Alan Shepherd, John Glenn, and the rest of the famous and flamboyant Mercury 7 astronauts who flew the first orbital missions, Jerrie Cobb and her compatriot lady flyers quietly matched, and sometimes surpassed, the test results of the male heros. Accomplished flyers, and businesswomen, the individuals of this group held many aeronautical records and won many air derbys. Some were graduates of the WAC programs of the Second World War, spearheaded by Jackie Cochran. Ackmann paints vivid portraits of each potential astronaut-candidate, and one can easily like these devoted flyers. (Interestingly, the author focuses heavily on the self-destructive political infighting between Cochran and Cobb for leadership of the women-in-space program.)
It's fascinating to "uncover" this group some forty years later. Who knew? Beyond a few publicity shots that appeared in Life magazine and in hometown papers, the women were hidden, unsanctioned as an official group of any kind, almost a curiosity. Yet, many points raised by Professor Ackmann are provocative: Women weighed less than male counterparts - and would require less rocket fuel; and why was there a requirement of jet-flying experience for astronauts when many animals (female, no less!) were sent aloft in the space capsules.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Must Read! June 22, 2003
By Ryan
Here is the story of 13 heroic women who were willing to risk it all for the unattainable dream of spaceflight. Their story is one of striking courage and resilience. As a 14 year old girl, I am proud to call the Mercury 13 my heroes!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story. June 3, 2003
Whether you're a fan of America's space program or simply in need of a great read, do yourself a favor and invest in this book.
A little over forty years ago -- when our first astronauts were flying high and America was racing the Soviets for space dominance -- a group of two dozen women signed on to take the same tests and training program as the fabled Mercury 7 (John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, etc). These tests were outlined by Tom Wolfe in THE RIGHT STUFF, and have gone down in historical lore as punishing and exacting, but they are nothing compared to what happened to the women next.
Martha Ackmann's breezy prose and ironic wit are on display here, and she handles the story of these heroic women in an engaging, unbiased way that practically makes the book turn its own pages. I couldn't put it down, and neither will you. Highly recommended.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Women on to the moon September 2, 2003
Research, research, research...
Ms. Ackmann has really done her homework on all the players involved in the Mercury 13 or FLAT (First Lady Astronaut Trainee) program. She did extensive personal interviewing with the surviving women of the program, and it shows.
Her writing gets you "into" the story and you won't want to put it down.
A classic example of truth being stranger than fiction. Now that we have the luxury of time to look back on these events, besides blaming the social conditions of the times, possibly this book can now serve as a benchmark of lessons learned and hopefully not to be repeated.
Highly recommend for every parent of girls and boys. Read it to your kids, and help them understand what happened.
Check this book out, now.
As an archive Librarian I have a great appreciation for the work that went into this book. It is a GREAT READ! And you won't be disappointed.
Remember....all others came after this one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Well, hooray! This is a great story of 13 pioneering woman and their efforts to enter America's early space program. This story needed to be written because I was alive then and I witnessed the attitude of our jackass astronauts toward women first hand. If you only knew whaat was going on, you would be shocked. This book is too mild for me. I can tell you this, there were two astronauts testifying before a Congressional house committee in 1962. I have pictures. They were rude, sarcastic and very nasty. Jacqueline Cochran made an appearance and was rudely treated. I was 18 years old. Ms. Cochran left abruptly.

I have the exact date and if someone looked up the Congressional Record, a U.S. Senator would be very embarassed. These 13 women tried very hard to become astronauts. But they were fighting the worse prejudice imanginable. I was there, I know what happened. They were the "token women."

They tried very hard but of course, they never made it.
It took nearly 40 years before women were accepted in our Space Program. I applaud the authors. You told the real story except for the jerks.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Pretty one sided point of view, required reading
This book is biased towards the whole girl power movement. While it is historical in some aspects, the book really focuses on the fact that these are women, not astronauts in... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Ronald D. Bruner Jr.
3.0 out of 5 stars good read
Pretty good book. Not the detail that I would like but would recommend as a good book of the overview of women and flight.
Published 11 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Women's History
This was a book we read for our book club. Gives insight into how women were perceived during the 50's and 60's
Published 12 months ago by franny264
4.0 out of 5 stars Girl Astronauts?
This is the story of 13 females who aspired to be part of the space program in the early 1960's after the Mercury 7 men were chosen. Read more
Published 13 months ago by ellison
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
The book came before the time I wanted it by and it was in great condition. It's a great book.
Published on April 10, 2011 by Lilly Saenz
4.0 out of 5 stars Mercury 13 pioneers in women's rights and flight
I really enjoyed this book, even though I am not all that interested in history or aerospace. You really come away with an understanding of what it took for these women to become... Read more
Published on October 9, 2010 by Lynn Anthony
1.0 out of 5 stars Misleading
While these were obviously fine, capable women, they just weren't in the same class as jet test pilots with engineering degrees. Read more
Published on September 3, 2010 by Steve in Memphis
4.0 out of 5 stars Nominate Jerrie Cobb for the Presidential Medal of Freedom
"We seek only a place in our Nation's space future without discrimination. We ask as citizens of this Nation to be allowed to participate with seriousness and sincerity in the... Read more
Published on January 4, 2006 by R S Cobblestone
2.0 out of 5 stars Mercury 13
The book does a poor job depicting a key part in women's history. The history itself is not boring or confusing at all. Read more
Published on July 17, 2005 by Mike Schubert
5.0 out of 5 stars We've come a long way, baby....thank heavens!
"The Mercury 13" is an amazing story of how [discrimination] in the early years of the American space program shut women out. Read more
Published on September 12, 2003
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