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Friday, March 20, 2009

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream

It's Women's History Month, and Tanya Lee Stone's new book is about a dramatic, little-known story episode in American history that involves some truly kick-ass women.

In 1961, the scientists who had put the Mercury 7 astronauts through their paces decided to test exceptional women pilots to see if they would do as well--the thinking was that if women were equally good candidates they would save NASA millions of dollars because women took up less space, ate less food, used less oxygen, etc.

The women DID excel and, no surprise, were kept out of the space program. What happened next includes women fighting injustice, and some American heroes behaving badly. It's a riveting story that takes us up to present-day and highlights some of the women for whom the way was paved by these 13 pioneers.

Read more about Almost Astronauts here. Yay for unfair-boundary pushers!


Justina Chen Headley said...

Can't wait to read this!

Silvia said...

Sounds great.
Women we can, this is the spirit this book gaves me.

Iris Black said...

Seems like a really interesting read. Time for people to realize: space is big enough for boys & girlz!


Llehn said...

Yay for women who won't take 'no' for an answer!!!


Polo.Pony said...

That sounds interesting, thanks for the post on it.

JimO said...

I'm coming late to the symposium here, but I'm glad for the opportunity. There's a lively debate about the book along these very lines, at Amazon, linked here:


Aside from the major sections of the book on the women's day-to-day experiences, which is expository storytelling at its best, the book has in my view major flaws.
First, it portrays its heroines as virtuous, intelligent, courageous cartoon characters, and its villains as stupid, small-minded, selfish, bigoted stereotypes. But the book had enough room for nuance, and the author had enough time to discover alternate interpretations, for example, of the comments she attributes to LBJ based solely on the decades-old much-retold recollections of one highly, highly biased participant.
Second, the treatment of alternate paths to women's access to space is myopic. Russians get the 'good lines', despite the now generally acknowledged view that Tereshkova's flight in 1963 was purely a propaganda stunt to impress the weak-minded (and it succeeded), while the reality of women in Soviet/Russian society and particularly in their space program -- to this day -- is abysmal.
The author's need to convey a political tone leads to factual errors -- such as pooh-poohing the selection of women and racial minorities in 1978 for space shuttle missions as second-rate because they still weren't allowed to fly the vehicle, they were all 'Mission Specialists' sitting in the back of the bus. Fred Gregory was one of them, a pilot who became a shuttle commander and top NASA HQ official -- the author denies his successes to make her points.
So much of this book is so good, it makes me cringe to see it so badly tarnished -- to the point of non-usability in any balanced, credible reading program -- by the relentless caricaturing and careless factual flaws.
I'm gonna point the finger in the editor's direction on this. The book has enough new, moving insights to deserve a second printing and more, AFTER a lot of serious editing.
See my own books at www dot jamesoberg dot com, along with lots and lots of opinions and research results on space -- past, present, and future.

Setia Adi said...
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Obat Kutil said...
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