Girl NASA: The Facts!

The 1960’s was a decade of major change in America. More and more women were entering the work force and demanding equal pay for equal work. They were raising their voices and making efforts to end domestic violence. And in the early 1960’s, another revolutionary event occurred in America: NASA decided to accept women into their space program.

Well…not exactly. Unlike Russia, which had included both men and women in its space program since its inception, NASA was backwards in terms of gender equality and thought only men should participate in their program. Did NASA not get the “decade of change” memo? Apparently not. Don’t miss Nerdist’s (in partnership with YouTube Space LA’s Women Create Program) video The Genius Ladies of Girl NASA. A hilarious send-up of of America’s treatment of women in the 1960s.

That didn’t mean that individuals wouldn’t try to prove NASA wrong. American physician Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II, who created tests for the male astronauts at NASA, decided to see how women did taking the same tests. (Fun fact: this potential gender policy shift happened because scientists thought women would fit in the space ships more compactly than men. To them, that meant fewer leg cramps for the male astronauts onboard. That’s it.)

Dr. Lovelace’s tests had to be privately funded, of course, because apparently females in space was a CRAZY thing to support at the time. Many of these women, who were predominantly immensely qualified pilots, thought NASA was going to use these tests to see if they could send women to space. The first woman to go through the physical testing was Geraldyn Cobb and her results were extremely successful. Lovelace got more female pilots to do the tests, too! Now, you may be asking, who was paying these female pilots if NASA was not funding this project? The answer lay in one Jacqueline Cochran, a very qualified pilot who provided funding for all the female pilots to complete their tests. Now, that’s a great example of ladies supporting ladies!


NASA in the early 1960’s, Photo Via Wikimedia

Unlike the men who went through the same physical testing, these women had no guarantee that they would ever be going to space or even be involved with NASA at all. Keep in mind, no one had even been to space yet, so these examinations were not necessarily telling if it would be safe for these people to participate in space travel. Among the thirteen women who passed the tests, a few were chosen to travel to Oklahoma to do more psychological and isolation tests, while others were asked to participate in tests involving military equipment in Pensacola, FL. However, a few days before all of this was supposed to happen, the Navy decided not to allow any access to the equipment because the program was privately funded. Geraldyn Cobb tried to fight for the continuation of the project, but the general consensus of the time was that women weren’t right for NASA.

Even during the time of the Lovelace program, women were already proving to be immensely capable in the fields of math and science. Katherine Johnson, a mathematician and space scientist, was offered a job by NASA before they even had the name NASA! In 1953, she was a part of a large group of women known as “computers” who worked on calculations that would lead to major advancements in American space travel. Being an African American woman, she faced discrimination in the field. She continuously faced men with the same qualifications who would be given special treatment because of their gender and race. Luckily for us and science as a whole, she ignored it and did not let it interfere with the groundbreaking work she was doing.


Katherine Johnson, Photo Via Wikipedia

Today, countless women have proved to be skilled in the fields of mathematics, aeronautics, and aerospace and many of NASA’s developments were made by women. The only crazy thing about women being in space programs is that they weren’t in them sooner!

Featured Image Via Wikimedia

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