Jerrie Cobb and the women behind the Women in Space program unsuccessfully lobbied Congress in 1962 to include women in astronaut training, but they still led the way for women’s inclusion in the aerospace industry.
With the Women in Space Program being cancelled, the major players behind it—Jerrie Cobb, Jackie Cochran, and Janie Hart (the wife of a Michigan Senator)—met with Congress subcommittees in 1962 to get the program up and running. NASA astronauts also participated in these subcommittee hearings and John Glenn is quoted as saying that women participating in astronaut training would “ruin the social order.” Jackie Cochran wasn’t a huge help either during these hearings. She said that including women in astronaut training would slow down the program because women trainees would drop out due to marriage and family responsibilities. Janie Hart’s friend, Liz Carpenter—executive secretary to Vice President Johnson—managed to get a memo on the VP’s desk urging him to consider women for the space program. Johnson quickly shut down further discussions about the topic and filed the memo. In 1963 the Soviet Union sent cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova into space, so the United States was already behind. Despite not being able to open up the space program to women, their meetings with Congress weren’t a failure. They succeeded in pushing a national conversation about women in aerospace, and the women involved went on to make history. The shy, quiet Jerrie Cobb went on to fly humanitarian missions in South America, delivering food and supplies to impoverished communities along the Amazon Basin, and she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1981 for her efforts.
Want to learn more about the history of spaceflight? Check out our exhibition Destination Moon: The Apollo 11 Mission to see how NASA landed the first humans on the Moon in 1969.
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