Excluded From Space

Andrew Sullivan —  Jul 24 2012 @ 5:09pm


Alexis Madrigal gets into the blatant sexism that once saturated NASA and the nation at large:

[O]ne might have expected great movement when [Soviet cosmonaut] Valentina Tereshkova left the Earth's atmosphere on June 16, 1963 to become the first woman in space. After all, Tereshkova spent three days in space, completed 48 orbits around Earth, and logged more time in orbit than all the Americans (three) who had been in space to that point. She'd proven that a woman was physically capable of withstanding the rigors of spaceflight. Surely, the Americans would rush to get a woman into space! Rosie the Riveter, perhaps, dusting herself off after her stint as a factory laborer in the successful war effort? But no, there was no Tereshkova moment. In fact, one NASA official who declined to give his name to a reporter, said it made him "sick to his stomach" to think of women in space. Another called Tereshkova's flight "a publicity stunt." It would be another 20 years before Sally Ride, who died yesterday at the age of 61, would become the first American woman in space.

NASA's original conclusion was that initial "exploration parties are historically composed of men, for various cultural and social reasons" and that once "space exploration by men has been successfully accomplished, then women will follow." But that didn't stop them from fantasizing about the role of women in space:

The question of direct sexual release on a long-duration space mission must be considered… It is possible that a woman, qualified from a scientific viewpoint, might be persuaded to donate her time and energies for the sake of improving crew morale …

(NASA image of pilot Gerri Cobb, who passed all the NASA training exercises, ranking in the top 2% of all candidates of both genders, but was excluded from becoming an astronaut.)