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The Case for Female Astronauts...in 1960

Space futurists of the 1960s saw the future of American culture in the cosmos as dependent on the wombs of spacefaring American women. Some excerpts and mid-century photos/designs below. Interesting mix of a look at history, gender roles in the past/present/future (read: sexism/chauvinism), and gender roles in sci-fi, and a look at reproductive rights and it's role in shaping views on space-exploration. Also, John Glenn is a tool.


as mentioned earlier, these paragraphs are excerpts. The other link is a bit longer. Worth a read.


Susie likes the pictures of satellites and space planes and sandwiches floating in microgravity. Her favorite part is when Mommy reads the section titled "Spacemen":

In the future, most boys will dream about going into space. The idea of being a spaceman will attract young people just as many now want to become airline pilots. Girls will also want to go out into the Space Service. They will probably do at least as well as men; for long and difficult trips, women may be preferred, since it has been proved that they are able to stand monotony better than men. Some girls may become pilots. The wordspacemenmust be used to mean either boys or girls, with no difference in the type of job they will do.


Susie drifts to sleep, imagining what kind of job she will do as a spaceman of the future. While this is the only one of the many children's space books in her family's library to mention girls and women, she looks forward to living and working in a future of space stations, interplanetary travel, and cosmic colonies.

It seems to Mommy that if a hundred years hadn't changed her own primary contribution to American society as wife and mother, perhaps Susie might be setting her sights impossibly high.


In response to publicity surrounding formerly secret medical testing of women to determine their theoretical fitness for spaceflight—and a Congressional hearing weighing whether women should be considered for astronaut selection during or after the Mercury program—a physician-journalist concludes that women could be just as fit spacefarers as the celebrated male Mercury 7 astronauts. But a single, all-important question remains: Why? Why send women into space at all when qualified men already do the job well?

Daddy chuckles at the answer given in the article:

"It appears inevitable that women will eventually be space travelers. If man is to colonize the planets, if celestial housekeeping is ever to be instituted, the 'second sex' must have booking on future space flights. Unless the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has in mind some drastic sociological innovations, the story of outer space cannot discard the traditional boy-meets-girl plot."


The forward-thinking journalist imagines colonies in space, with humankind expanding its reach to the stars. However, even a medical doctor cannot imagine a future that separates women from their definitive biological identity as childbearers—such a future seems so "drastic" as to be unimaginable—in 1962 and today.

This idealized political role of women as Republican Mothers endured into nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century historical representations of the Anglo-American push into the Western frontier. Frederick Jackson Turner first publicized his Frontier Thesis at the end of the nineteenth century. In it, he claims that westward expansion played a major role in the formation of a twentieth century American identity of rugged exceptionalism. While women are notably absent from Turner's thesis, subsequent revisions and elaborations of the Frontier Thesis portray frontier women as political actors by way of their power to reproduce, both physically and socially, a unique breed of American. The Cold War space race of the mid-to-late 20th century required a new kind of pioneer, but one that still expressed this frontier-forged American exceptionalism.


Before we shake our heads blithely and chalk this up to 1960s chauvinism, keep in mind that the role of women as interplanetary breeding technology persists in current American scientific and popular culture. Biological studies of the challenges of human reproduction in space have been periodically published in the intervening decades, with one article by NASA researchers on the subject published as recently as 2010. As of April 2014, the Wikipedia page for"Women in Space"is roughly half composed of discussions of motherhood in space—whether it is possible to become a mother in outer space, special risks for astronauts who are also mothers, and studies of mammalian reproduction in space science research. Recent and current science fiction franchises that peddle in spectacular intergalactic futurism, includingStar TrekandStar Wars, still bank on the reliable ratings draw of dramatic childbirth. We continue to imagine a future in the stars. We are capable of great flights of fancy that strain logic and credibility—except when it comes to imagining gestation and childbirth taking place outside the female body.

Over the course of the two-day hearing, the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts of the Committee on Science and Astronautics heard from a range of space flight and aviation experts, starting with Jerrie Cobb. Cobb's testimony detailed the raft of tests she undertook, from two days in an isolation tank to swallowing radioactive water to pedaling a bike until exhaustion set in. She also noted that she and twelve fellow female test subjects had matched or even surpassed the results achieved by the male Mercury 7 astronauts, though she was careful not to suggest that her gender made her superior to the newly minted American heroes.

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