In 1959, when Dr. Randolph Lovelace, the doctor in charge of screening astronauts for their first launch into space, heard that the Soviet Union planned to allow a woman to go into space, he began to screen women using the same physical tests that were being administered on men. Jerri Cobb was a expert pilot, but she lacked one criteria for entering the program – candidates had to be a graduate of test pilot school and women were not allowed into the test pilot school. Still, without authorization for NASA, Lovelace assembled a top team of 13 women astronauts for the Mercury launch. They endured the same rigorous testing, sometimes even more extreme. When NASA got wind of the program, Lovelace was ordered to cease.
Fortunately, one of the 13, Jane Hart, was also the wife of Michigan Senator Philip Hart and the daughter of Walter Briggs, owner of the Detroit Tigers. Hart and Cobb were given an audience with President Kennedy and Vice President Johnson. Congressional hearings were set up to discuss gender bias. Of which the congressmen decided did not exist, because Glenn (American Hero) and Astronaut Scott Carpenter said women could not be astronauts. Period. The male-dominated news media concurred for the next decade:
“Strike the shackles from our women, cry I, and cut them loose in space! It might even…encourage them, after the novelty has worn off, to return to the kitchen.” – Columnist Robert Ruark, (1962) Washington Daily News
“The first thing a girl astronaut would think of, naturally, is a good supply of perfume and deodorants. How will a girl keep her hair curled in outer space?” – Orlando Sentinel, (1965)
“First of all, it would cost us more than $100,000 just to redesign the space suit to fit the female anatomy.” – San Diego Union, (1968)
Neither Cobb or Hart ever got their chance to go to space. The women have been collectively labeled the Mercury 13, but they never went into space, were not a part of NASA’s Project Mercury, nor did they ever meet together as a group. In 1998, after lobbying for many years, Glenn was given A SECOND opportunity to return in order to research the effects of aging and gravity in space. Cobb wanted to go as well. In 1999, the National Organization of Women (NOW) launched a petition drive to get Cobb her voyage to space.
She was denied.