Title: Almost Astronauts
Author: Tanya Lee Stone
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Concepts: human resources, jobs, careers, economics of gender, discrimination
Review: In the early 1960s, a group of women dubbed the "Mercury 13" successfully completed a grueling set of psychological and physical tests in a private program designed to explore if women were as qualified as men to become astronauts. Led by Jerrie Cobb, the first woman to pass all the tests, their performance in these tests equaled or surpassed that of the male astronauts hired by NASA and clearly demonstrated that women were physically capable of working in this capacity. The bigger challenge proved to be the struggle to change prevailing attitudes and convince the United States government that women had the right to become astronauts.
Despite an extremely well-organized and persistent lobbying campaign, their proven qualifications, and high-level connections (the group of 13 included the wife of a senator), Ms. Cobb and her colleagues failed to gain admission into NASA's official astronaut training program. Their political efforts could not overcome intense opposition stemming from the condescending coverage in the media, stonewalling from Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson (he famously scribbled "Let's stop this now!" on a memo about women in NASA), and damaging testimony from a renowned but resentful female pilot at a key Congressional hearing. It took almost two more decades before women gained admission into NASA's training program.
With its meticulous research, appealing display of photographs, and crisp writing, Almost Astronauts provides both an interesting and informative account of women's efforts to shatter existing gender norms and enter into a highly non-traditional occupation in aeronautics. In doing so, the book provides a useful overview of important issues in the women's movement, the civil rights movement, and aviation history. Given its appeal to younger readers, the book has the potential to increase pressure for continued changes that support the advancement of women in the sciences.
Review by: Rutgers University Project on Economics and Children