Summary and book reviews of The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann

The Mercury 13

The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight

By Martha Ackmann

The Mercury 13
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2003,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Jul 2004,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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.

CHAPTER ONE

Space Fever

Jerrie Cobb reached down and pulled the heavy layers of arctic clothing over her navy blue linen dress. Already the temperature on the airport tarmac that afternoon in June 1957 was a steamy ninety degrees. The shy, soft-spoken young pilot did not mind the heat nearly as much as she minded the reporters who crowded around her. She disliked all the attention and being forced to answer questions such as why she needed warm clothing for her attempt at a new altitude record. Cobb had trouble putting her thoughts into words and knew reporters found her not as quotable as they would like. The questions were predictable. "Are you frightened, Miss Cobb, about trying to break the world record?" "How cold will it get up there?" "Why does a pretty young girl like you want to spend her time around the dirt and grime and noise of airplanes?" "What about boyfriends? Are you more afraid of dating than flying six miles up?" Cobb paused before answering and patiently tried to ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time - Lev Grossman

A revealing snapshot of a country simultaneously caught up in the romance of the future and snarled in the prejudice of the past.

USA Today - Steve Powers

... captures the women's personality and can-do attitudes perfectly, inspiring a blaze of righteous indignation in exposing small-minded male egos.

Library Journal - Jeffrey Beall

... despite the book's subtitle, this is not an untold story ... Stephanie Nolan's Promised the Moon The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race covers the same topic, and some of the 13 women, including Cobb, have published their autobiographies.

Publishers Weekly

... an utterly compelling book that deserves to be widely read well beyond the circles of the usual readers about the space program.

Booklist - Carol Haggas

... engrossing examination ... delivers both a stinging indictment of an intolerant society and a stirring endorsement of women whose valor and dedication remain inspirational.

Kirkus Reviews - Ellen Geiger/Curtis Brown

A shameful episode exposed with thoroughness and a graceful pen. Highly recommended for students of the space race and women’s issues alike.

Author Blurb William E. Burrows,author of This New Ocean The Story of the First Space Age
The Mercury 13 ought to be on the shelf next to The Right Stuff as a glaring and embarrassing counterpoint to the triumph of the boys’ club and its fighter jocks. Ackmann has done outstanding investigative reporting.

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