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House Honors Mercury 13 Women

On June 6, the House approved, by voice vote, a resolution (H. Res. 421) honoring the thirteen women pilots who participated in a vigorous women’s astronaut testing program in 1961 and came to be known as the “Mercury 13.”

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Kagen (D-WI), the resolution contains a number of findings, including:

  • all of the Mercury 13 women were accomplished pilots with commercial ratings or better and [had] at least 2,000 hours of flying time;
  • the Mercury 13 women passed the same rigorous physical and psychological tests that the original Mercury 7 astronauts had to undergo;
  • the Mercury 13 women were prepared to continue their contributions to America’s space program at the Naval School of Aviation Medicine in Pensacola, Florida, by undergoing advanced aeromedical examinations using jet aircraft and military equipment, until they were informed that their testing program was canceled;
  • the Soviet Union flew the first woman in space in 1963;
  • the United States flew the first American woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride, in 1983; and
  • the United States flew the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle, Lt. Col. Eileen Collins, in 1995.H. Res. 421 commends the Mercury 13 as pathfinders for NASA’s female astronauts, and encourages young women to follow in their footsteps and pursue careers in aviation and astronautics, as well as engineering and science.

    Rep. Kagen said, “Although many of these women outshined and outperformed their male counterparts, they were never allowed to fly into space. The prejudice of the day grounded their mission before they could reach the stars, but it did not ground their dreams. In 1961, just before their final phase of training at the Naval Aviation Center in Pensacola, Florida, the Mercury 13 women received notice that the program had been canceled…Author Martha Ackmann wrote this about the Mercury 13 and their quest for flying into space: ‘While the Mercury 13 did not get their shot at space at least not yet they refused to let someone else trim their dreams. They fought for what they wanted, what they believed in, and spoke out against discrimination.’”

    Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL) stated, “The careers and accomplishments of these great American women served as an inspiration for many other young women that followed in their careers in aviation, astronautics, science, and engineering. This resolution recognizes the accomplishments of Myrtle Cagle, Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, Jan Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Mary Wallace “Wally” Funk, Jane Briggs Hart, Jean Hixson, Gene Nora, Stumbough Jessen, Irene Leverton, Sarah Lee, Gorelick Ratley, Bernice Trimble Steadman, Geraldine “Jerri” Sloan Truhill, and Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman.”

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