Summer reading #5

Review #5: Promised the Moon: the Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race by Stephanie Nolen

Published 2002 ~ ISBN #1-56858-275-7 ~ 331 pages ~ Challenge book #4

“All men are bastards.” –Kate (French Kiss)

Reading this book was a lot like watching Titanic. You knew how it was going to end. No matter how much you loved the characters, no matter how good things looked, no matter how it SHOULD have been…that ship was going down.

Of course, I didn’t really like the characters in Titanic. I did like the women in Promised the Moon. For the most part.

In essence, this book was about thirteen extraordinary women pilots. Some were married; others were single. The oldest was a forty-year-old senator’s wife, who had given birth to eight children. Some were WASPs during World War II. Two were twin sisters. One worked as a cropduster. Several taught flying lessons. Many owned their own airplanes and businesses. On average, they had 4,500 flight hours.

They were trailblazers before the Space Race, and when it began, they stepped forward to serve their country. They gave up time, jobs, husbands and sweethearts in order to undergo astronaut testing. For many of them, becoming an astronaut began as an unexpected invitation and became an obsession.

The lady astronaut program was the whim of two male scientists. Sputnik was already circling the earth, and the United States was trying desperately to send a man into space. But the spacecraft were too heavy. What if, the scientists thought, the United States sent WOMEN into space? Women were lighter, smaller and used less oxygen. But could they endure the physical trials of space travel?

Dr. Randolf Lovelace decided to find out. He recruited Jerrie Cobb to undergo the same trials that the Mercury Seven confronted. No one really knew what spaceflight would be like, so they ran potential astronauts through all kinds of tests. Jerrie passed them all with flying colors–in many cases with better results than the Mercury Seven.

So the field was expanded. Dr. Lovelace and Jerrie recruited other women to undergo the tests. Another, older woman pilot named Jackie Cochran also suggested candidates…and suggested that she run the program.

Jackie was accustomed to leading advancements of women in aviation. She was married to a millionaire, and she had many high-level political connections. She founded and ran the WASPs during WWII. She was a pioneer, and in her eyes, these younger women pilots should defer to her. Since she was too old (and her health was too poor) to undergo astronaut testing herself, Jackie felt she should at least run the program.

It didn’t hurt that she was one of Dr. Lovelace’s biggest financial supporters.

If I write much more, I’ll give the whole story away. I’ll end with this: this is an amazing story of several extraordinary women who achieved tremendous things over the course of their lives. It is a shame that they had to live in a society where men were such…MEN.

I really, really dislike Lyndon B. Johnson and John Glenn. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive John Glenn for his second trip into space.

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