October 6, 2009
By Brandon Keim
Imagine if the first person on the moon had proclaimed, “That’s one small step for woman, one giant leap for mankind.”
It could have happened. In the late 1950s, the United States government contemplated training women as astronauts, and newly released medical test results show that they were just as cool and tough as the men who went to the moon.
“They were all extraordinary women and outstanding pilots and great candidates for what was proposed,” said Donald Kilgore, a doctor who evaluated both male and female space flight candidates at the Lovelace Clinic, a mid-century center of aeromedical research. “They came out better than the men in many categories.”
The clinic’s founder, Randy Lovelace, developed the health assessments used to select the Mercury 7 team, and thought that women might make competent astronauts. It was a radical idea for the era. Women’s liberation had just begun to stir, and only a quarter of U.S. women had jobs.
But Lovelace was practical: Women are lighter than men, requiring less fuel to transport them into space. They’re also less prone to heart attacks, and Lovelace considered them better-suited for the claustrophobic isolation of space.
….The would-be Mercury 13 astronauts would ultimately be held to a different standard than their male counterparts. Some NASA officials speculated that female performance could be impaired by menstruation. Others wanted pilots who had already flown experimental military aircraft — something only men could have done, since women were barred from the Air Force.
Comment from Leslie
Very interesting article…the women were held to more grueling tests and standards than their male counterparts…and in the end their performance was judged on menstruation. I am not sure that things are that much different today – which is why we need to look at menstruation as a natural cycle, a natural part of our being – balance our hormones naturally – and really become the powerful women that we are capapble of being.