Honorary degrees for 'Mercury 13' -- women pilots who were astronaut candidates

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The first American astronauts captured the imaginations of a proud country nearly 50 years ago when they were selected to be part of Project Mercury, the first of a series of manned spacecraft missions.

But a lesser-known group of aspiring astronauts never was given a chance to join the program for one primary reason: They were women.

On Saturday, the 13 women, all renowned pilots, will be granted honorary degrees at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh for their pioneering efforts to join the space program.

The Mercury 13, as they became known, underwent a series of rigorous tests in 1961 to see whether they would be fit for spaceflight...

Two days before the women were to leave for spaceflight simulation tests at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Fla., everything was canceled.

The pilots were told that NASA was discontinuing the women's program...

According to NASA, a special subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronauts held hearings in July 1962, but no action resulted. Although the Soviet Union sent astronaut Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, the American space program did not launch a female astronaut until Sally Ride's flight in 1983.

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