First Female Astronaut Jerrie Cobb Has Died
The woman who in 1961 became the very first woman to pass astronaut testing, pilot and visionary Jerrie Cobb, has died. According to family spokesperson and journalist Miles O’Brien, Cobb died on March 18th in Florida after a brief illness, at age 88. Cobb had committed her career towards pushing for gender equality in space, which sadly, never quite achieved the heights that she had aimed for.
Cobb was one of 13 women to have passed astronaut testing in the 1960’s and these women became known as the Mercury 13. But the sad reality was that NASA already had its Mercury 7 team of astronauts, a group of military men made up of jet test pilots. Even more sad is the fact that none of the 13 women to have passed the notoriously strenuous physical tests associated with astronaut training ever made it into outer space.
It certainly wasn’t for a lack of trying or commitment. In 1962, Cobb testified before a panel of Congress and a special House selection committee, saying that female astronauts sought nothing more than a place in the future of US space history; and one without discrimination. Despite Cobb and her 12 contemporaries never once having as much as hinted at wanting to appropriate any of the glory bestowed on their male colleagues, NASA couldn’t really be bothered to offer them as much as the time of day, let alone the opportunity to fulfill their dreams.
No Keeping A Good Woman Down
Instead of becoming bitter and disillusioned, Cobb, after having been demoted by NASA to the role of consultant tasked with talking up the space program, went on to serve the US as a humanitarian aid pilot in the Amazon jungle. A true show of character, especially considering the fact that after having made a comment about being the most ‘unconsulted consultant employed by any government agency’, Cobb was instantly dismissed by NASA after only one week in her new position.
But Cobb had been forward thinking even to the point of having apparently made peace with the state of things well ahead of time. In her 1997 autobiography Cobb wrote that it was simply a matter of neither her culture nor her country having been ready at the time to accept the idea of a woman travelling to space.
Paving The Way For Womankind
It wasn’t until 1983, more than 20 years later, that NASA finally allowed a woman to fly in space. Sally Ride had ultimately benefited from the work and commitment of the 13 true pioneers who had gone before her.
In 1995 Cobb and some of the surviving members of Mercury 13 did witness some semblance of the fruit of their labour when they attended the shuttle launch of NASA’s first female space pilot, Eileen Collins. Collins later went on to become NASA’s first female space commander.
Cobb’s commitment and early career truly was the making of a giant leap for all of womankind.