It's hard not to feel indignation reading Globe and Mail
reporter Stephanie Nolen's detailed account of 13 fearless, extraordinary '60s-era women known as the Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees, or FLATs. That's saying something, considering the women's story, as Nolen tells it, is one of remarkable strength, perseverance, and accomplishment. But it's also one of institutionalized sexism, false hope, and, ultimately, dashed dreams. Promised the Moon
begins with the earliest, pioneering female pilots, tolerated largely to reinforce the notion that flying--not yet a mass commercial industry--was so easy, even a woman could do it. By the late '50s, the space race between the Soviets and the Americans was on, and Nolen captures the era's giddy sense of urgency. As the infamous Mercury 7 are feted by the nation, Albuquerque doctor Randy Lovelace decides to see how women hold up against men in space testing and, it is implied, in space. If their testing--privately funded by wealthy, influential female pilot Jackie Cochran--is the guts of the story, then the experiment's abrupt end and its impact on the FLATs is Promised the Moon
's heart. Given that women of the time needed their husband's signature to secure a loan, it's hardly shocking that NASA was reluctant to hand the reins over to 13 women without formal military training which, it is pointed out at length, they were legally denied access to anyway. But what is surprising is how quickly the FLATs unravelled at the very point--before a Congressional hearing into the matter--when unity was paramount. Backbiting and betrayal, especially between Cochran and FLAT chief Jerrie Cobb, characterize the rest of the story, and one gets the sense that even though the women could complete with men in areas of physical endurance, the psychological makeup of these women really wasn't
the right stuff. It's a point Nolen makes, but too late, and her analysis is missing amid her detailed interviews with the surviving FLATs and her exhaustive translation of countless government records. That said, Nolen's story is an important historical record and perhaps the clearest telling yet of the 13 women who fought mightily for, but were denied, the chance to serve their country. --Kim Hughes
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
In one of those strange coincidences that often occur in publishing, this is the second book this summer (after Martha Ackmann's The Mercury 13) to relate the little known but remarkable story of the 13 women who trained in the early 1960s to be Mercury astronauts, and though a slightly less satisfying effort, this is still compelling reading. These women passed many of the same grueling tests taken by the male Mercury astronauts, but they were opposed by virtually everyone in power at NASA. In addition to bringing many of the 13 to life, Nolen, a foreign correspondent for Canada's Toronto Globe and Mail, does an excellent job of describing the social context in which they operated. She explains that although institutional sexism and a strong antifemale bias among most players at NASA certainly existed, American society at large was not yet ready to permit women to be placed in the roles for which these women were training. Even many women felt this way, and Nolen explains how Jackie Cochran, one of America's best-known female aviators, spoke forcefully against sending women into space. Cochran's motives, according to Nolen, were complex; she didn't want to antagonize powerful male friends, she didn't want other women to overshadow her achievements and she felt that women weren't physically capable of performing such activities. Although Nolen interviewed 11 of the original 13, her material isn't quite as personal as Ackmann's. Nonetheless, this is impossible to put down and deserves widespread attention. 30 b&w photos.
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