Mercury 13
Mercury 13 refers to thirteen American
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 women who, as part of a privately funded program, underwent some of the same physiological screening tests as the astronaut
An astronaut or cosmonaut is a person trained by a human spaceflight program to command, pilot, or serve as a crew member of a spacecraft....

s selected by NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

 on April 9, 1959 for Project Mercury
Project Mercury
In January 1960 NASA awarded Western Electric Company a contract for the Mercury tracking network. The value of the contract was over $33 million. Also in January, McDonnell delivered the first production-type Mercury spacecraft, less than a year after award of the formal contract. On February 12,...

. The term was coined in 1995 by Hollywood producer James Cross as a comparison to the Mercury Seven
Mercury Seven
Mercury Seven was the group of seven Mercury astronauts selected by NASA on April 9, 1959. They are also referred to as the Original Seven and Astronaut Group 1...

 name given to the selected male astronauts; however, the Mercury 13 were not part of NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

's astronaut program, never flew in space and never actually met as a group.


Independent researcher William Randolph Lovelace II
William Randolph Lovelace II
William Randolph "Randy" Lovelace II was an American physician who made contributions to aerospace medicine....

 helped develop the tests for NASA's male astronauts and became curious to know how women would do taking the same tests. In 1960, Lovelace invited Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb
Jerrie Cobb
Geraldyn M. Cobb in Norman, Oklahoma is an American aviator. She was also part of the "Mercury 13," a group of women who underwent some of the same physiological screening tests as the original Mercury Seven astronauts as part of a private, non-NASA program.- Early life :Cobb is the daughter of...

 to undergo the same rigorous challenges as the men.

Cobb, already an accomplished pilot, became the first American woman (and the only one of the Mercury 13) to undergo and pass all three phases of testing. Lovelace and Cobb recruited 19 more women to take the tests, financed by the world-renowned aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran
Jacqueline Cochran
Jacqueline Cochran was a pioneer American aviator, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation...

. 13 of the women passed the same tests as the Mercury 7. Some were disqualified due to brain or heart anomalies. The results were announced at a conference in Stockholm, Sweden.

Candidate background

All of the candidates were accomplished pilots; Lovelace and Cobb reviewed the records of over 700 women pilots in order to select candidates, and did not invite anyone with less than 1000 hours of flight experience. Some of them may have been recruited through the Ninety-Nines, a women pilot's organization of which Cobb was also a member. Some women responded after hearing about the opportunity through friends.

This group of women that Jerrie Cobb called the Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs) accepted the challenge to be tested for a research program.


Since doctors didn't know what stresses astronauts would experience in space, tests ranged from the typical X-ray
X-radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation. X-rays have a wavelength in the range of 0.01 to 10 nanometers, corresponding to frequencies in the range 30 petahertz to 30 exahertz and energies in the range 120 eV to 120 keV. They are shorter in wavelength than UV rays and longer than gamma...

 and general body physicals to the atypical, in which the women had to swallow a rubber tube so their stomach acids could be tested. Doctors tested the reflexes in the ulnar nerve
Ulnar nerve
In human anatomy, the ulnar nerve is a nerve which runs near the ulna bone. The ulnar collateral ligament of elbow joint is in relation with the ulnar nerve. The nerve is the largest unprotected nerve in the human body , so injury is common...

 of the woman's forearms using electric shock. To induce vertigo
Vertigo (medical)
Vertigo is a type of dizziness, where there is a feeling of motion when one is stationary. The symptoms are due to a dysfunction of the vestibular system in the inner ear...

, ice water was shot into their ears, freezing the inner ear so doctors could time how quickly they recovered. The women were pushed to exhaustion using specially weighted stationary bicycles to test their respiration. They subjected themselves to many more invasive and uncomfortable tests.

The 13

In the end, thirteen women passed the same Phase I physical examinations that the Lovelace Foundation had developed as part of NASA’s astronaut selection process. Those thirteen women were:
  • Myrtle Cagle
  • Jerrie Cobb
    Jerrie Cobb
    Geraldyn M. Cobb in Norman, Oklahoma is an American aviator. She was also part of the "Mercury 13," a group of women who underwent some of the same physiological screening tests as the original Mercury Seven astronauts as part of a private, non-NASA program.- Early life :Cobb is the daughter of...

  • Janet Dietrich
    Janet Dietrich
    Janet Christine Dietrich was a pilot and one of the Mercury 13 who underwent the same NASA testing in the early 1960s as the Mercury 7 astronauts.-Early life:...

  • Marion Dietrich
    Marion Dietrich
    Marion Dietrich was a pilot and one of the Mercury 13 who underwent the same NASA testing in the early 1960s as the Mercury 7 astronauts....

  • Wally Funk
  • Sarah Gorelick (later Ratley)
  • Janey Hart (née Briggs)
  • Jean Hixson
  • Rhea Hurrle (later Allison, then Woltman)
  • Gene Nora Stumbough (later Jessen)
  • Irene Leverton
  • Jerri Sloan (née Hamilton, later Truhill)
  • Bernice Steadman (née Trimble)

Additional tests

A few women took additional tests. Jerrie Cobb, Rhea Hurrle, and Wally Funk went to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Oklahoma City is the capital and the largest city in the state of Oklahoma. The county seat of Oklahoma County, the city ranks 31st among United States cities in population. The city's population, from the 2010 census, was 579,999, with a metro-area population of 1,252,987 . In 2010, the Oklahoma...

 for Phase II testing, consisting of an isolation tank test and psychological evaluations. Because of other family and job commitments, not all of the women were able to take these tests, however. Instead, once Cobb had passed the Phase III tests (advanced aeromedical examinations using military equipment and jet aircraft), the group prepared to gather in Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Pensacola is the westernmost city in the Florida Panhandle and the county seat of Escambia County, Florida, United States of America. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 56,255 and as of 2009, the estimated population was 53,752...

 at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine to follow suit. Two of the women quit their jobs in order to be able to attend. A few days before they were to report, however, the women received telegrams abruptly canceling the Pensacola testing. Without an official NASA request to run the tests, the Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

 would not allow the use of its facilities for an unofficial project.

It is sometimes claimed that Funk also completed the third phase of testing, but the claim is misleading. Following cancellation of the tests, she found ways to continue being tested. She did complete most of the Phase III tests, but only here and there as she was able, not as part of a specific program.

Gender discrimination

Jerrie Cobb immediately flew to Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution....

 to try to have the testing program resumed. She and Jane Hart wrote to President John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy
John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy , often referred to by his initials JFK, was the 35th President of the United States, serving from 1961 until his assassination in 1963....

 and visited Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon B. Johnson
Lyndon Baines Johnson , often referred to as LBJ, was the 36th President of the United States after his service as the 37th Vice President of the United States...

. Finally, on the 17th and 18th of July 1962, Representative
United States House of Representatives
The United States House of Representatives is one of the two Houses of the United States Congress, the bicameral legislature which also includes the Senate.The composition and powers of the House are established in Article One of the Constitution...

 Victor Anfuso
Victor Anfuso
Victor L'Episcopo Anfuso was a Democratic member of the United States House of Representatives from New York....

New York
New York is a state in the Northeastern region of the United States. It is the nation's third most populous state. New York is bordered by New Jersey and Pennsylvania to the south, and by Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont to the east...

) convened public hearings before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics. Significantly, the hearings investigated the possibility of gender discrimination a two full years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964
Civil Rights Act of 1964
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against African Americans and women, including racial segregation...

 made that illegal, making these hearings a marker of how ideas about women's rights permeated political discourse even before they were enshrined in law.

Cobb and Hart testified about the benefits of Lovelace's private project. Jacqueline Cochran
Jacqueline Cochran
Jacqueline Cochran was a pioneer American aviator, considered to be one of the most gifted racing pilots of her generation...

 largely undermined their testimony, talking about her concerns that setting up a special program to train a woman astronaut could hurt the space program. NASA representatives George Low
George Low
George Michael Low, born George Wilhelm Low was a NASA administrator and 14th President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He was born near Vienna, Austria to Artur and Gertrude Burger Low, small business people in Austria...

 and Astronauts John Glenn
John Glenn
John Herschel Glenn, Jr. is a former United States Marine Corps pilot, astronaut, and United States senator who was the first American to orbit the Earth and the third American in space. Glenn was a Marine Corps fighter pilot before joining NASA's Mercury program as a member of NASA's original...

 and Scott Carpenter
Scott Carpenter
Malcolm Scott Carpenter is an American engineer, former test pilot, astronaut, and aquanaut. He is best known as one of the original seven astronauts selected for NASA's Project Mercury in April 1959....

 testified that under NASA's selection criteria women could not qualify as astronaut candidates. They correctly stated that NASA required all astronauts to be graduates of military jet test piloting programs and have engineering degrees, although John Glenn conceded that he had been assigned to NASA's Mercury Project without having earned the required college degree. In 1962, women were still barred from Air Force training schools, so no American women could become test pilots of military jets. Despite the fact that several of the Mercury 13 had been employed as civilian test pilots, and many had considerably more propeller aircraft flying time than the male astronaut candidates (although not in high-performance jets, like the men), NASA refused to consider granting an equivalency for their hours in propeller airplanes. Although some members of the Subcommittee were sympathetic to the women's arguments, because of this disparity in experience no action resulted.

Media attention

Lovelace's privately funded women's testing project received renewed media attention when Soviet
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is a retired Soviet cosmonaut, and was the first woman in space. She was selected out of more than four hundred applicants, and then out of five finalists, to pilot Vostok 6 on the 16 June, 1963, becoming both the first woman and the first civilian to fly in...

 became the first woman in space on June 16, 1963. In response, Clare Boothe Luce
Clare Boothe Luce
Clare Boothe Luce was an American playwright, editor, journalist, ambassador, socialite and U.S. Congresswoman, representing the state of Connecticut.-Early life:...

 published an article in Life
Life (magazine)
Life generally refers to three American magazines:*A humor and general interest magazine published from 1883 to 1936. Time founder Henry Luce bought the magazine in 1936 solely so that he could acquire the rights to its name....

criticizing NASA and American decision makers. By including photographs of all thirteen Lovelace finalists, she made the names of all thirteen women public for the first time. (Significant media coverage had already spotlighted some of the participants, however.)

First woman astronaut

Although both Cobb and Cochran made separate appeals for years afterward to restart a women's astronaut testing project, the U.S. civil space agency did not select any female astronaut candidates until Astronaut Group 8 in 1978, which selected astronauts for the operational Space Shuttle
Space Shuttle
The Space Shuttle was a manned orbital rocket and spacecraft system operated by NASA on 135 missions from 1981 to 2011. The system combined rocket launch, orbital spacecraft, and re-entry spaceplane with modular add-ons...

 program. Astronaut Sally Ride
Sally Ride
Sally Kristen Ride is an American physicist and a former NASA astronaut. Ride joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman—and then-youngest American, at 32—to enter space...

 became the first American woman in space in 1983 on STS-7
STS-7 was a NASA Space Shuttle mission, during which Space Shuttle Challenger deployed several satellites into orbit. The shuttle launched from Kennedy Space Center on 18 June 1983, and landed at Edwards Air Force Base on 24 June. STS-7 was the seventh shuttle mission, and was Challengers second...

, and Eileen Collins
Eileen Collins
Eileen Marie Collins is a retired American astronaut and a retired U.S. Air Force Colonel. A former military instructor and test pilot, Collins was the first female pilot and first female commander of a Space Shuttle. She was awarded several medals for her work. Col. Collins has logged 38 days 8...

 was the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle during STS-63 in 1995. Collins also became the first woman to command a Space Shuttle mission during STS-93
STS-93 marked the 95th launch of the Space Shuttle, the 26th launch of Columbia, and the 21st night launch of a Space Shuttle. Eileen Collins became the first female shuttle Commander on this flight. Its primary payload was the Chandra X-ray Observatory. It would also be the last mission of...

 in 1999. In 2005, she commanded NASA's return to flight mission, STS-114
-Original crew:This mission was to carry the Expedition 7 crew to the ISS and bring home the Expedition 6 crew. The original crew was to be:-Mission highlights:...

. At Collins' invitation, seven of the surviving Lovelace finalists attended her first launch, ten of the FLATs attended her first command mission, and she has flown mementos for almost all of them.

Honors and Awards

  • In May 2007, the eight surviving members of the group were awarded honorary doctorates by the University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh.
  • The Mercury 13 were awarded the Adler Planetarium
    Adler Planetarium
    The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum in Chicago, Illinois was the first planetarium built in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest in existence today. Adler was founded and built in 1930 by the philanthropist Max Adler, with the assistance of the first director of the planetarium, Philip Fox...

    Women in Space Science Award in 2005.

External links

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