With the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing only a few days away, this book addresses an overlooked aspect of the space race.
While America and the world were following the achievements of an all-male astronaut cadre, most of us were unaware of attempts to have a female contingent added to their number.
A group of hopeful women submitted themselves to AND PASSED exactly the same selection interviews, medicals and physical tests taken by the men; and yet their candidacy was dismissed.
When asked about the possibility of the inclusion of women in space missions, the responses from senior men ranged from the predictable comments about space exploration being “men’s work”, to the acknowledgement that women would have to be included at a later stage to cook the meals and keep house on any prospective space station.
Those were the more savoury responses. Others were along the lines of a comment from rocket genius Werner von Braun, who agreed to the inclusion of women because there should be room for 110 lbs of recreational equipment on any mission.
The Russians weren’t quite as reticent to fly a woman into space, but they had no altruistic, gender-equality, reasons for doing so. All they wanted was to check another first off the list. After they’d already achieved the first man in space, they wanted to beat America again with flying the first woman into orbit. Once that was done, women were sidelined again, until many years later when America eventually announced that Sally Ride would become the first American woman in space aboard the shuttle Challenger.
The Russians hurriedly rearranged their launch schedule to include their second female cosmonaut in a mission to their Salyut space station.
Even after women had started to become accepted members of space shuttle crews, attitudes still needed change. When Rhea Seddon had to make an impromptu space walk to literally stitch up part of a damaged satellite, someone in Mission control commented on the value of her home-maker skills. On hearing that, Sally Ride corrected the man’s suggestion, advising him that Seddon’s stitches “were the work of a heart surgeon”.