Promised the Moon
Stephanie Nolen heard a story about Jerrie Cobb and she couldn't let it go: Cobb, a world-record-setting pilot and a woman, was recruited in 1959 to take the astronaut tests. At the time, the United States was losing the space race. The Soviets had larger, more powerful rockets, and engineers at NASA thought women -- smaller and lighter -- might be the answer to their problems. Women were also thought to be more tolerant of isolation and pain.
Randy Lovelace, chair of NASA's Life Sciences Committee and the doctor who supervised the selection of NASA's Mercury astronauts, and Donald Flickinger, an air force brigadier general and pioneer in aviation medicine, came up with the plan for a woman-in-space program. They tested Jerrie Cobbb, and she excelled on the same battery of tests her male counterparts took. She endured time in an isolation tank and spun through powerful G-Forces. Lovelace recruited additional female pilots for the tests, and twelve performed exceptionally.
Stephanie Nolen tracked down all eleven of the surviving "Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees." From the FLATs, Nolen gets the firsthand story of those exciting early days of the space race. But the thrill was short-lived. The thirteen women who were thoght to be prime astronaut material were grounded in 1961 when the woman-in-space program was abruptly and mysteriously cancelled. Until they read this book, the FLATs never knew why. At a time when a woman in space was regarded as "ninety pounds of recreational equipment", in the words of a well-known space pioneer, it's not surprising to learn that opposition started at the top.
The women put up a fight. Two of them, Jerrie Cobb and Janey Hart, won a hearing before Congress, but testimony from John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, two of the Mercury 7, and from one of aviation's best-known and beloved women, Jackie Cochran, thwarted their dreams -- and there would be no American woman in space for nearly another quarter century. Promised the Moon exposes the plotting and the prejudice that kept women out.
"Compelling reading ... this is impossible to put down and deserves widespread attention." Publishers Weekly
"Stephanie Nolen ... relates in fascinating detail how women proved in performance trials that they had superior physical and mental attributes to endure the isolation and weightlessness of space." Elle
"Canadian journalist Stephanie Nolen tells this forgotten space-race subplot well ... The stories of the women pilots are compelling ... You can't help but ache for all those thwarted dreams." New Scientist
"Promised the Moon is sad and fascinating, and an invaluable addition to the history of space exploration."
"Nolen captures the intense emotions of the women, who learned of their dismissal from curt telegrams. A few of them fought on in various ways, and almost all kept flying, but it would be years before anything close to the full story behind their abrupt abandonment would be clear." The Chicago Tribune
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