In 1959, the doctor who supervised the selection of NASA's first astronauts (all men) concluded that womensmaller, lighter and more tolerant of pain and isolationmight actually be better for the job. That doctor, Randy Lovelace, put 25 of the top female pilots in the United States through his tests, and finished with 13 superb candidatesmany of whom had outperformed male astronauts such as John Glenn and Alan Shepard. Lovelace launched a secret woman-in-space program, and the 13 women started to believe they might lead their country into space.
But in 1961, the program was abruptly and mysteriously canceled. The women put up a fight, and won themselves a hearing before Congress. But John Glenn showed up to mock their effortsand at the crucial hour, the women were suddenly betrayed by Jackie Cochran, the country's top female pilot and an influential politician in her own right.
Journalist Stephanie Nolen has tracked down the 11 surviving members of the "First Lady Astronaut Trainees," many of whom are still flying. Their leader, Jerrie Cobb, flies humanitarian aid missions to remote parts of South America. Janey Hart, 82, the wife of a key US Senator and a founder of the National Organization for Women, lives on a boat she sails solo in the Caribbean. And Wally Funk has trained at the Russian space centre and plans to go into space on a private charter.
Nolen tells the story of the secret program, the political and cultural climate that led to its cancellation and the remarkable women who were prepared to give their lives in the tense years of the early space race. Once promised the moon, some of the women still cling to the hope they will make that journey, even as they continue to live extraordinary lives on earth.