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The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  804 ratings  ·  125 reviews
For readers of The Astronaut Wives Club, The Mercury 13 reveals the little-known true story of the remarkable women who trained for NASA space flight.

In 1961, just as NASA launched its first man into space, a group of women underwent secret testing in the hopes of becoming America’s first female astronauts. They passed the same battery of tests at the legendary Lovelace Fo
Paperback, 280 pages
Published July 13th 2004 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published June 3rd 2003)
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J.M. Hushour
Jan 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Dicks in tin cans" was how one wag described the early decades of NASA. Okay, I just made that up. But have you ever wondered why there wasn't a female American astronaut until Sally Ride's ride in 1983, a full twenty years after the Soviets sent up an amateur parachutist with no flight experience whatsoever?
Was it because American women were sorely lacking in experience, too? No. There were tons of badass women flying around all over the place.
Was it because they just weren't up to the trainin
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
Infuriating. And sadly, no surprise that the nail in the program’s coffin was a woman, expert at undermining other women while promoting herself to men. A scene that repeats itself on scales large and small.

Also, f#ck you, von Braun.
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Probably the most heart breaking and depressing book I have ever read. I was either in tears, totally depressed, frustrated or enraged every chapter. That being said, I think it's a must read. People who advocated for women to have the same opportunities as men should not be forgotten.

I had no idea about the Mercury 13 before I read this book. There were so many amazing women to read about. The emotional distress was worth it.
Peter Tillman
The book is awkwardly written and overlong, but makes its point: women were fine aviators from the start, were the equals (if not superior) to the men NASA picked for the first astronauts, and were pushed back by plain, blatant sexism. 3+ stars.

There was more going on than this: the US was feeling the pressure of being #2 in the space race, what with Sputnik, lofted into orbit by a repurposed ICBM launcher, and Yuri Gagarin, orbiting the Earth a few years later. So expedience led the new NASA to
Lizabeth Tucker
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Back when the American Space Program was just beginning, a few farsighted men began testing women pilots for possible astronaut positions. One of the first chosen for testing was Jerrie Cobb, an Oklahoman who held various world records as a pilot.

Other women who made the initial cut included:

Jan & Marion Dietrich - identical twins from California
Mary Wallace "Wally" Funk - the baby at 22, from Taos
Bernice "B" Steadman - flight operation owner from Michigan
Jean Hixson - Air Forces Reserves offic
Catherine Edmundson
Amazing story about amazing, trailblazing women.
Makes me somewhat ashamed for how little I pushed myself throughout my working life. I could have done more to make the working world a better place.
However, this book did inspire me to figure out how to better use my retirement time to make more of a positive impact on the lives of others.
Anna lost in stories *A*
as much as I found the subject of the book fascinating, in the end I can’t give it more than 3,5 stars… the writing style just really didn’t work for me and I can’t quite put my finger on why… was it too dry? maybe… I’m not sure… but it definitely made it harder for me to get into this book and read more of it at a time… BUT the story of this amazing group of women is definitely worth a read :) my heart was breaking for them and I think that more people should know that story… definitely give it ...more
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
When the Soviets launched Valentina Tereshkova into space in 1963, "Celebrated writer Clare Boothe Luce wrote a scathing article in Life magazine, reminding readers that a year earlier, thirteen American women had asked Congress to send an American woman into space. Where are those thirteen women now? Luce asked. 'The U.S. Team Is Still Warming Up the Bench' the Life headline answered. Luce called the missed opportunity a costly Cold War blunder and excoriated American men for their sexist views ...more
Nov 06, 2014 marked it as to-read
"Discrimination has nothing to do with chivalry." Ruth Nichols, pilot, contemporary and friendly rival of Amelia Earhart ...more
Oct 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
I want to thank the Mercury 13 for proving that women are capable and can do anything they put their minds to do.
Lauren Stoolfire
Depressing and absolutely infuriating, but a must-read if you're interested in the history of women in space, NASA, and aviation. You know this doesn't end well, but it shows just how strong these badass ladies of the Mercury 13 were and how they helped pave the way for the Sally Ride and all women involved in the space program today. ...more
I've heard of Sally Ride. Eileen Collins. Judith Resnik. Shannon Lucid. Before this book, I had never heard of Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Sloan, B Steadman, Wally Funk, or any other of the 13 women pilots who left their homes, jobs, and families to test for a chance to go into space in the early 1960s. They faced an immense lack of support and a large amount of sexism. Their contributions paved the way for the ladies that I first listed, to finally go into space 20 years later.

It was maddening to me th
Oct 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Came as a recommendation of Kelly Sue DeConnick, and it did not disappoint. What a fantastic read! Powerful story, and I like that Ackmann focused in on Jerrie Cobb to give us a focal point to move through the history. Jackie Cochran does not come off looking too good, here, though, so be warned: if you go into this book as a fan of Cochran's, I doubt you're going to like her much coming out of it. Fantastic photographic section. I love that the prologue/epilogue work hard to contextualize the s ...more
Apr 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Being a NASA-nerd girl, I can't believe that I never heard this story. But, then again, everything I know comes from a man's perspective. A sad story that, unfortunately, was reflective of the time. I enjoyed the book but felt that the middle pages were a bit long and detailed, gleaning most of the story from the first 2 and last 2 chapters. ...more
Cindy Marcusen
Apr 30, 2020 rated it really liked it
I truly enjoyed this book. It was very inspiring to me. I was a child during the Space Race and was inspired to become a scientist. I understand the prejudice against women in science and math. Women like these helped those of us who came after. I rated it 4 star because it seemed to focus on 2 of the women more than the others. But I understand why. These two made for a good plot of confliction. By the end I really could not understand why Cocherine was so against women moving forward other tha ...more
Mar 20, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book as much as I could love something that made me so angry. Not at the author, not at the topic, not at the thirteen women profiled here, but at society and men. Words of the non-profanity kind fail me and are inadequate to explain my frustration and disgust at the way these women were treated. Heaven forbid a woman should have a career. Or a dream. Or enjoy flying. Or - and this is the kicker - be better suited to spaceflight than men and be able to prove it. Everyone should read ...more
Faith Justice
Jul 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: research, ebook
Excellent. Fascinating history. Review to come.
Meg Marie
Jul 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An amazing group of women who deserved to have their stories told. The rampant sexism, misogyny and racist of the time made my feminist blood boil like the heat shield had failed on re-entry.
Sally Peters
Jul 17, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating true story about women who wanted to take part in the nation's space race to the moon. It is very appropriate for reading in this 50th anniversary year of the first moon landing. It is also eye opening regarding the place of women in that time and place. ...more
Jun 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A must read for fans of the space program,those interested in the 50s-60s, and anyone interested in women's rights. ...more
Apr 20, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Martha Ackmann's book tells the virtually unknown story of thirteen women pilots who did everything in their power to prove that women were as capable of space flight as men, at a time when women were not even allowed to fly jet airplanes. That these ladies faced an uphill battle would be putting it mildly. Societal norms of the late 1950s/early 1960s dictated that women should be homemakers. Simply becoming pilots with thousands of hours of flying time, numerous world records for distance and s ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
In The Mercury 13, Ackmann took what would have otherwise been an inspiring book about thirteen women's struggle to gain entry into the new United State's space program and managed to turn it into a platform to push feminist dogma. I almost put the book down during the first few chapters after repeated jabs at the NASA leadership for daring to put winning a war with Russia above women's equality. That is really the crux of this book; Ackmann believes it should have been more important to ensure ...more
I remember the selection of the original 7 male Mercury astronauts, but knew absolutely nothing about these women who took the same tests that the men did, passed them with flying colors, and yet were excluded from the space program until 1978. I didn't know that these women had been excluded. Of course, it was the 50s and 60s, and everyone was excluded except white males. Infuriating. And even though today women and persons of color are not totally excluded from the military, the space program, ...more
Pat Salvatini
Sep 17, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Back in 1958 when NASA was first formed times were different, social norms were different, equality was non-existent. Yet Dr. Randy Lovelace thought ahead and realized that women should be given the same opportunity to be astronauts as men and began secretly testing there abilities. Thus beginning Jerrie Cobb's decades long fight to become the first female astronaut. She was not alone in her quest, she was joined by twelve other women, all accomplished pilots. One celebrated and famed pilot of t ...more
Very interesting look into many women who wanted to be astronauts in a time when institutional sexism made it impossible. It amazes me how much and how little has changed since then. I still hear people say there is no longer any sexism in the sciences, when I deal with it all the time.
Jan 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Fascinating. I had no idea there were so many accomplished women pilots in the fifties and sixties. Also, this reaffirmed my belief that women who refuse to help others in order to be the "best" woman are horrible people. ...more
David Glenn Dixon
Washington City Paper
Arts & Entertainment : Book Review

Mercury Blues
By Glenn Dixon • September 12, 2003

Wander around the Kennedy Space Center for a while. Check out the shiny metal suits worn by the first astronauts. Try to cram yourself into the actual-size mockups of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo capsules. It doesn't take long for the truth to sink in: Space was conquered by short people. Five-eleven was the vertical limit for the earliest round of rocket jockeys, dubbed the Mercury 7—group
Jan 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Here's a story for the ages––everything you suspected about the treatment of women in 1960s and 70s America, bundled up with the high drama and national narrative of the Space Race––told in a thoroughly journalistic manner, with footnotes. There are inherent dangers to approaching the story this way, of course: namely, artificially asserted objectivity, as the author embraces here, is a turn-off for many readers, including me. There are moments when the author's personal connections to the story ...more
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: am-hist
This book was informative, infuriating, and heart-breaking. I didn't know anything about the Mercury 13, so I'm glad that Ackmann wrote their stories in this book and did it so well. I had no idea there were so many talented and skilled women pilots in the US in the late 1950s.

I was particularly riveted and outraged while reading about the 1962 Congressional hearings on astronaut qualifications. The arguments for why women shouldn't be considered for positions as astronauts were all so familiar.
Feb 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book, published in 2003, is what I wish more recent authors of "girls books" in STEM/WWII contributions could read and model. As with many history books written by journalists, Ackermann's book is well-researched and and well-written.

She uses a few women's stories throughout, and that arc provides structure to the overall story of the women who aspired to contribute to the space program in the 1960s. There were 13 women who underwent some tests (not directly affiliated with NASA) to potent
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Martha Ackmann, author of These Fevered Days, Curveball, and The Mercury 13, writes about women who have changed America. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Ackmann taught a popular seminar on Dickinson at Mount Holyoke College, and lives in western Massachusetts.

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