Indeed, for the general public, the idea of beating the Russians by launching a man into space seized their attention in ways that sending up an unmanned missile for scientific purposes did not. But who would be that first man in space? Eisenhower initially believed that astronauts should come from a variety of professions--arctic explorers, mountain climbers, meteorologists, flight surgeons, deep-sea divers. People with a wide range of abilities and perspectives would enhance space exploration, he thought. But the President changed his mind. In late 1958 he decided that NASA should narrow the field and choose astronauts from the ranks of military jet test pilots, a field that barred women and included few minority men. The shift in Eisenhower's thinking reflected the urgency he felt for launching a U.S. manned space program before the Soviets had a chance. His decision also was informed by his experience, respect for military protocol, and the advice of NASA officials. Dr. T. Keith Glennan, NASA's first administrator, argued that his own years in the service had convinced him that military jet test pilots would make the best astronaut candidates. Men who flew for the military were already admired for their skill, experience, and courage, he said. Why open up the selection process to anyone else when it would be more efficient to survey a smaller, recognizable group instead? Glennan presented his case to the President and "got it cleared in five minutes," he later recalled.
Excerpted from The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann. Copyright© 2003 by Martha Ackmann. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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