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The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight 1st Edition

4.2 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0375507441
ISBN-10: 0375507442
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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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (May 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375507442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375507441
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #680,188 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
As a young boy when President Kennedy promised we would land a man on the moon, I found myself awed, inspired,and thrilled by those early Mercury astronauts who brought being anAmerican to life for children ofmy age and generation. Reading this book so many years later, describingthe heroic women who shared the aspiration to reach for the stars themselves, I feel just as thrilled, awed and inspired by their dream and their efforts to pursue it. This isa wonderful book written with passion, humor, and love about women who daredto dream, who battled a system that was not quite ready to bring equality to the planets, but who persevered nonetheless. Who needs reality television? Read this book for true life stories of some of the bravest and most talented and ambitious pilots who ever soared into the skies. Read about their exploits, their achievements, the missions they accomplished and thetests they surpassed. It is true, you will also read about politicians who couldn't go the last mile to accept their highest aspiration, and bureaucrats too slow-witted to rise above the limits of those times. But in the end, this is a quintessentially American story about real American heroes, who embodied the ideals that make reaching into space an expression of our daring, imagination, courage and vision. These women had The Right Stuff, and while they did not reach their ultimate dream of walking on the moon, their great triumph was not merely in their great achievements throughout their careers, which were enormous. Their truest triumph was that their pioneering spirit and courage not only advanced the cause of other women who are making those journeys today, but advanced the cause of a grateful nation, men and women alike, who, like me, will stand and salute the spirit described in this wonderful and magisterial book.
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Format: Hardcover
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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