So I’ve been on a space kick lately, reading a LOT of books about space and astronauts. In my hunt this book, Women in Space: 23 stories of first flights, scientific missions, and gravity-breaking adventures by Karen Bush Gibson, really caught my attention, I never knew that there were women being tested for the Mercury space program. I never knew the Soviets launched a woman into space before the US did. This book is in the teen section at my local library but I’d recommend it for anyone 4th grade and up, maybe even lower depending on their reading level.
This book first talks about the Mercury 13, women who underwent all of the same tests as the male Mercury 7 astronauts. Each of these women was an accomplished pilot. They underwent the tests often completing them with better results than the male astronauts but were not allowed to be part of the program. One was made a “NASA consultant” that was almost never consulted. When the women tried to get changes made allowing them to be part of the program, appealing to then Vice President Lyndon Johnson who as a Senator had fought for the space program they were rejected. One reports that when she spoke to Johnson about it he told her “We can’t let you into space, if we did we’d have to let the Blacks go to space, and then the Mexican Americans, all the minorities would want to go.” Now this is obviously a secondhand quote but WOW. I realize this was before the Civil Rights Movement really got underway and made a difference but to hear that these words came from a man that would soon be President of the United States is seriously disconcerting.
The book continues with stories of four female Soviet Cosmonauts, two of which went to space before the first American woman. Before their individual stories there is a short chapter giving a bit of the history of the Soviet space program and comparisons between it and the US program at NASA.
Next up a chapter on American women in space beginning with Sally Ride the first American woman in space, it also tells of women walking in space, piloting the shuttle, commanding the shuttle and commanding the Space Station, and ends with the story of Barbara Morgan the back up to Christa Mcauliffe, teacher who died in the 1986 Challenger explosion (a site that gives me shivers to this day and I only saw it on tv unlike a friend of mine who living in FL at the time was standing outside her elementary school watching the launch live) previously there is the story of another American female astronaut that was on that flight.
The last section of the book begins with a summary of the space programs of other countries and then continues with stories of female astronauts from several other countries including another member of the Challenger crew.
The exciting thing to me is that while it took a long time for women to get to space it seems in the US at least that women are really making headway, 1:4 astronauts are women (compared to 1:7 in the police force nationwide), the 2013 class of astronauts is half women (a fact I was excited to see on a special display at the St. Louis Science Center for Women’s History Month.)
I can’t recommend this book enough, it was definitely one I could not put down and when I get a classroom again I’ll be adding this book to my room library!