Almost Astronauts: 13 Women who Dared to Dream
by Tanya Lee Stone
About the book:
What are the requirements for being shot off into space with the hopes and fears of a nation riding on your ability to pilot a hunk of metal? Mastery of flying, as well as courage, intelligence, resistance to stress and fitness—any checklist would certainly include these. But when America created NASA in 1958, there was an unspoken rule in place: you must be male, and you must be white. Yet, nearly twenty years before the first women were allowed into the astronaut program, a group of thirteen women proved not onlky that they were as tough as any man, but also that they were brave enough to challenge the government. Almost Astronauts tells the story of the “Mercury 13” women, who were blocked by prejudice, jealous, and a note scrawled by one of the most powerful men in Washington. In the end, the inspiring example of these space age pioneers empowered young people to take their rightful place in the sky and beyond, piloting jets and commanding space capsules.
About the author:
Tanya Lee Stone is a former editor and an award-winning author who often writes about strong women. When she first learned about the “Mercury 13” she “could not believe that such a dramatic story about courageous women, a fight for justice, and American heroes behaving badly was not already known the world over.” As she did her own original research, she learned a dark secret about the early space program that had been hidden for forty years.
Without showing students your book have them draw a detailed picture of an astronaut with and without their uniform. Afterwards count how many drew a picture of a woman compared to a man. Discuss the results.
- What is the significance of the chapter title “T Minus 38 Years?” What was life like for women in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s? How had World War II changed American women?
- How did Betty Skelton and Ruth Nichols help pave the way for the other women? Without forward-thinking men like Randy Lovelace and Donald Flickinger who believed women had equal skills and abilities do you think it would’ve taken even longer for women to reach space? Why or why not?
- Describe the astronaut fitness tests. Would you want to endure them yourself? Have you ever trained for anything? How did it compare to the training and testing the women went through? Do you think they were being even more thorough and exacting on the women? Why?
- What do you think will be revealed about our current stereotypes and misconceptions when people look back 40 years from now? Are there groups of people who are still denied their rights and opportunities? Why?
- Who was Jerrie Cobb? Why was she such an important member of the Mercury 13? Why was her performance in the isolation tank so extraordinary? How do you think you would fare under those conditions? What other tests did she endure? To what outcomes? Despite her success why do you think comparisons with the men were avoided overall?
- Why did women feel compelled to be quiet about any feminist views in their jobs and life? What consequences did they face if they showed any feminist leanings? Are their views today that are still that unpopular?
- The Mercury 13 women represented a broad questioning of women’s roles of the period, “Not just what is a woman capable of but what is a woman’s place” (p. 54) Why was this so far outside the expectations and norm of the time?
- Why was the 2nd round of testing cancelled? How would you feel if you were told no to pursuing your dreams? How did the requirement of the test jet pilot give NASA the perfect excuse?
- How high up did the conspiracy to keep women out of the space program go? Why didn’t Johnson want to admit women to the program?
- How did Jackie Cochran put the nail in the coffin for women joining the space program during the 60’s? What was her motivation? Were you surprised to learn that a woman would hold back others in this way?
- How does the book show people who are considered classic American heroes in a new light? Do you think their views were representative of most men at the time? Do you think most of them have changed their minds about women and minorities or have just become more discreet with stating their opinions?
- What changes finally opened the doorways for women to become astronauts? Why did it take so long? Who were some of the pioneering women to first slip on the uniform of astronaut and fulfill the Mercury 13 women’s dreams?
Write a pamphlet biography about a woman who has been a pioneer in her field. Find at least five important facts about her work, five dates that were key in her life and who she inspired.
Create a timeline of the first forty years of the space program add in important dates for women in an alternative color for comparison.
Inspired by the story of the Mercury 13 women create a piece of art which honors their contribution. Explain your use of color, form and texture in an artist’s statement which you also turn in with the project.
Research and read common periodicals, newspapers and other print from the late 1950’s and early 1960’s to find depictions and expectations of women and their roles in the family and work place. Compare to periodicals and newspapers of today. Create a venn diagram comparing what you found.
Research the distance between the Earth and the moon, Mars, Venus and the sun. Calculate how long it would take to get there in your family car traveling an average speed of 65 MPH.
This guide uses the following Language and Reading Curriculum Standards:
Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Using Almost Astronauts in your classroom with this guide uses the following National Science Standards:
NS.5-8.1 Science As Inquiry
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
Understandings about scientific inquiry
NS.5—8.4 Earth and Space Science
Structure of the earth system
Earth in the Solar System
NS.5-8.5 Science and Technology
Abilities of technological design
Understandings about science and technology
NS.5-8.7 History and Nature of Science
Science as a human endeavor
Nature of Science
History of Science