Alexis Madrigal: The Women Who Would Have Been Sally Ride





Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology.

[O]ne might have expected great movement when Valentina Tereshkova left the Earth's atmosphere on June 16, 1963 to become the first woman in space. After all, Tereshkova spent three days in space, completed 48 orbits around Earth, and logged more time in orbit than all the Americans (three) who had been in space to that point. She'd proven that a woman was physically capable of withstanding the rigors of spaceflight. Surely, the Americans would rush to get a woman into space! Rosie the Riveter, perhaps, dusting herself off after her stint as a factory laborer in the successful war effort? But no, there was no Tereshkova moment. In fact, one NASA official who declined to give his name to a reporter, said it made him "sick to his stomach" to think of women in space. Another called Tereshkova's flight "a publicity stunt."...

The truth is: the sexism of the day overwhelmed the science of the day. Because NASA already knew that women were capable of spaceflight, and Tereshkova's success confirmed that. A later space-agency review of possible physiological problems in spaceflight admitted that women appeared to be great candidates for flight....

The participants of the Women in Space Program experienced tremendous success. "Nineteen women enrolled in WISP, undergoing the same grueling tests administered to the male Mercury astronauts," Brandon Keim wrote in 2009. "Thirteen of them -- later dubbed the Mercury 13 -- passed 'with no medical reservations,' a higher graduation rate than the first male class. The top four women scored as highly as any of the men."...



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