First Female Candidate for Astronaut Dies

'I would give my life to fly in space,' Jerrie Cobb said
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 18, 2019 7:37 PM CDT
First Female Candidate for Astronaut Dies
In 1961, Jerri Cobb looks into a full-scale model of the Mercury capsule that carried Alan Shepard into space.   (AP Photo/William P. Straeter)

America's first female astronaut candidate, pilot Jerrie Cobb, who pushed for equality in space but never reached its heights, has died. Cobb died in Florida at age 88 on March 18 after a brief illness, the AP reports. In 1961, Cobb became the first woman to pass astronaut testing. Altogether, 13 women passed the arduous physical testing and became known as the Mercury 13. But NASA already had its Mercury 7 astronauts, all jet test pilots and all military men. None of the Mercury 13 ever reached space, despite Cobb's testimony in 1962 before a congressional panel. "We seek, only, a place in our nation's space future without discrimination," she told a House panel on the selection of astronauts.

NASA instead tapped her as a consultant to talk up the space program. She was dismissed after saying: "I'm the most unconsulted consultant in any government agency." She wrote in her autobiography Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot, ''My country, my culture, was not ready to allow a woman to fly in space." Cobb was a humanitarian aid pilot in the Amazon jungle for decades. "She should have gone to space, but turned her life into one of service with grace," tweeted Ellen Stofan, director of the National Air and Space Museum. The Soviet Union put the first woman in space in 1963: Valentina Tereshkova. NASA didn't fly a woman in space—Sally Ride—until 1983. Still hopeful, Cobb emerged in 1998 to make another pitch for space as NASA prepared to launch Mercury astronaut John Glenn on shuttle Discovery at age 77. "I would give my life to fly in space, I really would," Cobb said at age 67. "I would then, and I will now."

(More astronauts stories.)

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