The Mercury 13

The Mercury 13 were thirteen women, the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs), who were privately selected by William Randolph Lovelace II, funded by world-renowned aviator Jacqueline Cochran, to undergo the same tests as the male astronauts in Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program (1958-1963). After Lovelace worked on the tests for NASA’s male astronauts, he became interested to compare results in female participants. They were named the Mercury 13 as a comparison to the Mercury 7 (the selected male astronauts), but although they underwent some of the same physical and psychological screening tests as the male astronauts, they were never trained as astronauts, and they never flew in space. Pilot Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb was the first to be invited, in 1960, and ultimately was the only participant to pass all three testing phases. Cobb and Lovelace selected 25 women out of 700 (rejecting anyone with under 1,000 hours of flight experience), and 13 of them passed the Phase 1 physical examinations. These tests were designed around a lack of understanding of what astronauts would actually experience in space: the tests were often invasive, uncomfortable, stressful, and exhausting. NASA came under significant criticism after Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, but no American women were accepted into the space agency until 1978; Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983.

These 13 women were: Jerrie Cobb, Myrtle Cagle, Janet Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Wally Funk, Sarah Gorelick Ratley, Janey Briggs Hart, Jean Hixson, Rhea Hurrle Woltman, Gene Nora Stumbough Jessen, Irene Leverton, Jerri Sloan Truhill, and Bernice Trimble Steadman.


Pictured (from left): Gene Nora Jessen, Wally Funk, Jerrie Cobb, Jerri Truhill, Sarah Rutley, Myrtle Cagle and Bernice Steadman.