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Artist, Heather Oliver             

Those Who Never Got to Fly

Sally Kristen Ride, one of the iconic First Others in space flight, recently died at the relatively young age of 61: she was the first American woman to participate in missions. Her obituary revealed that she was also the first lesbian to do so. Like other iconic First Others (Mae Jemison comes to mind), Sally Ride was way overqualified – multiple degrees, better than her male peers along several axes – and she also left the astronaut program way before she needed to (more about this anon). Even so, Ride remained within the orbit of space exploration activities, including founding NASA’s Exploration Office. She was also part of the board that investigated the crashes of Challenger and Columbia; Ride was the only public figure to side with the whistleblowing engineer of Morton-Thiokol when he warned about the problems that would eventually destroy Challenger.

When Sally Ride was chosen for her first mission – by an openly sexist commander who still had to admit she was by far the most qualified for the outlined duties – the press asked her questions like “Do you weep when something goes wrong on the job?” This was 1983, mind you, not the fifties. The reporters noted that she amazed her teachers and professors by pulling effortless straight As in science and – absolutely relevant to an astronaut’s abilities – she was an “indifferent housekeeper” whose husband tolerated it (she was married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley at the time). Johny Carson joked that the shuttle launch got postponed until Ride could find a purse that matched her shoes.

Ride and Jemison had to function in this climate but at least they went to space, low-orbit though it had become by then. There were forerunners who never got to do so, even though they were also overqualified. I am referring, of course, to the Mercury 13.

This was the moniker of the early core of women astronauts who trained in parallel with the Mercury 7 and outperformed them – except, as is often the case, they did so in makeshift facilities without official support. Here’s the honor roll call of these pioneers whose wings were permanently clipped (the last names are before marriages changed them): Jane Briggs, Myrtle Cagle, Geraldyn Cobb, Janet Dietrich, Marion Dietrich, Mary Wallace Funk, Sarah Gorelick, Jerrie Hamilton, Jean Hixson, Rhea Hurrie, Irene Leverton, Gene Nora Stumbough, Bernice Trimble.

The Thirteen, never officially part of NASA (they were selected by William Lovelace, who designed the NASA astronaut tests, and the initiative was supported by private donations), had to have at least 1000 hours of flying experience. They underwent the same physical and psychological tests as the men and did as well or better at them: all passed phase I, several went on to phase II, and two completed the final phase III. This was not because any failed II or III, but because they didn’t have the resources to attempt them.

When the Thirteen gathered at Pensacola to show their abilities, the Navy instantly halted the demonstration, using the excuse that it was not an official NASA program. The women, some of whom had abandoned jobs and marriages for this, took their case to Congress. Several people – among them “hero” John Glenn – testified that women were not eligible to fly in space because 1) they didn’t have the exact advanced degrees specified by NASA (neither did Glenn, but he got in without a whisper) and the agency would not accept equivalents and 2) they were prohibited from flying military jets (yet women flew such jets from factories to airfields in WWII; when some of the Mercury 13 flew military jets to qualify, NASA simply ratcheted up that rule).

Space aficionados may recall that the Mercury program’s nickname was “man in a can” – the astronauts had so little control that engineers had to manufacture buttons and levers to give them the illusion of it. Nevertheless, NASA made military jet piloting experience a rule because such men, notorious cockerels, were considered to have The Right Stuff – and Congress used this crutch to summarily scuttle the Mercury 13 initiative, although there was brief consideration of adding women to space missions to “improve crew morale” (broadly interpreted).

It took twenty years for NASA to decide to accept women as astronauts. Just before it did so, hack-turned-fanboi-prophet Arthur C. Clarke sent a letter to Time crowing that he had “predicted” the “problem” brought up by astronaut Mike Collins, who opined that women could never be in the space program, because the bouncing of their breasts in zero G would distract the men. When taken to task, Clarke responded that 1) some of his best friends were women, 2) didn’t women want alpha-male astronauts to find them attractive?? and 3) libbers’ tone did nothing to help their cause. Sound familiar?

Women have become “common” in space flight – except that the total number of spacenauts who are women is still 11% of the total. Furthermore, given that the major part of today’s space effort is not going to Mars or even the Moon but scraping fungus off surfaces of the ISS or equivalent, being an astronaut now is closer to being a housecleaner than an hero. We haven’t come so far after all, and we’re not going much further.

I’m one of the few who believe that women’s rights and successful space exploration (as well as maintenance of our planet) are inextricably linked. As I wrote elsewhere:

“I personally believe that our societal problems will persist as long as women are not treated as fully human. Women are not better than men, nor are they different in any way that truly matters; they are as eager to soar, and as entitled. The various attempts to improve women’s status, ever subject to setbacks and backlashes, are our marks of successful struggle against reflexive institutionalized misogyny. If we cannot solve this thorny and persistent problem, we’ll still survive — we have thus far. However, I doubt that we’ll ever truly thrive, no matter what technological levels we achieve.”

This holds doubly for space exploration – for the goals we set for it, the methods we employ to achieve it and the way we act if/when we reach our destinations.

Addendum: I did not discuss Valentina Tereshkova, who was both the first woman cosmonaut and the first civilian to fly into space. because I wanted to keep the focus of this article on NASA.  Nevertheless, I should mention her as well as Sveltana Savitskaya, the first woman to do a space walk, whose first mission preceded that of Sally Ride.

Sources and further reading

Martha Ackmann, The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon (one source of the Clarke “distracting breasts” incident and also excellent in its own right)

Site dedicated to the Mercury 13:

2nd Image: some of the Mercury 13, gathered to watch the launch in which Eileen Collins was the first woman to pilot a space shuttle mission. Left to right: Gene Nora Stumbough, Mary Wallace Funk, Geraldyn Cobb, Jerri Hamilton, Sarah Gorelick, Myrtle Cagle, Bernice Trimble.

61 Responses to “Those Who Never Got to Fly”

  1. Christopher Phoenix says:

    The real reason that male astronauts said women were not fit to be astronauts is because they didn’t want women achieving important space “firsts” over men. Arthur C. Clarke’s “bouncing breasts” statement sounds so laughable as to be a distasteful joke- but I take it that he meant it seriously. Clarke’s blatantly sexist statement also ignores people who are homosexual or bisexual. What if two male astronauts who find each other attractive are launched into space together? Of course, Clarke doesn’t mention that, because he is just “proving” that women are unfit for spaceflight, or at least subservient to the men.

    I’m surprised you didn’t mention Valentina Tereshkova, who was both the first female cosmonaut and the first civilian to fly into space. She was the first, yet everyone seems to forget her because she wasn’t American.

    The whole “top astronauts” with the right stuff is not very applicable to spaceflight in general. A spaceship will operate for many months or years away from Earth, during which time the astronauts do plenty of housekeeping, co-habitate, and cooperate to solve in problems that arise. This calls for people with practical scientific and engineering experience, patience, and the ability to work well with others, not haughty jet pilots. Flying in a rocket is a about as far from flying a jet as you can get- you don’t even feel like you are moving once the engines stop firing!!

  2. Athena says:

    The irony in Clarke’s stance is that he was homosexual himself. I also agree that long-term space missions would actually be endangered by cultural “alpha males” who have been conditioned not to cooperate or tolerate strictures.

    I didn’t mention Valentina Tereshkova because I wanted to keep the focus of the article on NASA and its bizarre decision. I added an addendum, so that people don’t mistakenly think I was unaware of her or ignoring her.

  3. Mephane says:

    Athena, you greatly relieved me with your comment. I was already about to write that I am truly shocked that someone like Clarke could be so narrow-minded, but in this new light that it was just meant ironically, it makes sense.

    I also want to add that more often than not, I don’t even get what is wrong with people who deny that women are equally capable in any field. Maybe it is just because I am too young, but the very idea of not giving everyone equal rights seems absurd to me.

    (I have the same trouble with the concept of racial segregation – I just don’t get it. Why? What’s the point, where is the reasoning behind it? It’s just stupid, narrow-minded and even detrimental to the human civilization.)

  4. Barkeron says:

    But don’tcha know, our astromen can’t help but be distracted by the woman cargo because it’s a fundamental biological imperative to objectify a woman’s body.

  5. Athena says:

    Mephane, I now realize that first sentence could be read either way. Let me clarify: Clarke was 100% serious — he carried all the default assumptions of a white Anglo middle-class man of that era. He was also a poor writer who, somehow, is still considered a visionary by many in the community. I barely could make it through a couple of his novels, and put him down for good when I read a story of his in which all the women in a long-generation starship are solely and exclusively “housewives”.

    Barkeron, most transhumorists fully embrace the evopsycho Tarzanist garbage. So it’s not surprising that George Dvorsky chose to highlight yet another study that will prove to be fundamentally flawed when scrutinized. They imagine that when the Singularity comes, the AI overlords will supply those few Chosen they let live with “perfect” sexbots — pliant, replaceable, interchangeable, with the “right” breast-to-hip ratio.

  6. Walden2 says:

    Geesh, Athena – yet another thought-provoking article from you that doesn’t sound like every other piece on the subject? So predictable. :^) :^)

    I guess it is progress in one sense that most of the general public is probably unaware that a woman astronaut was among the crew members of the most recent human flight into space, Sunita Williams. She holds the record for the longest stay in space by a woman (195 days) and is in second place when it comes to female astronauts with record EVA times.
    Williams NASA bio here:

    China also recently sent their first female explorer into the Final Frontier – Liu Yang. While this was no doubt in part a propaganda move akin to Tereshkova’s flight in 1963, the responses I saw from the Internet were positive and lacking in surprise that a woman was on a space mission. Among other credentials she is a major in the Chinese Air Force.

    When I was a kid, being quite clueless about human affairs, I assumed that all the astronauts who were then braving the void in those cramped spacecraft and flying to the Moon were daring explorers who wanted nothing more than to further the cause of human science and knowledge by boldly going, etc. Of course all I had to go on was NASA’s publicity machine, which the media ate up. Read Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff to see how the Mercury 7 astronauts were portrayed as virtual demigods rather than human beings with a combination of talent and enough moxy to want to sit on top of a controlled bomb ride into a realm that would almost immediately kill just about any unprotected living creature from Earth.

    I was honestly saddened to learn how most of the early astronauts just wanted to fly the fastest and farthest reaching machines rather than do it for exploring the Final Frontier as reason enough. They really weren’t that much different from sports jocks in attitude and behaviors, which really brought me down (except that the astronauts’ salaries were paltry in comparison).

    Astronauts who did not toe the line or showed – gasp – overt emotions about being in space (which happened to Scott Carpenter on his Mercury Aurora 7 flight in 1962) were ostracized by this literal boys club. They all had to be variations of John Wayne and Gary Cooper or else. That is one reason why it has taken so long to get the real scoop on human physiologies during long space missions, because no one wanted to be perceived as less than godlike in any respect.

    My hope is that as private space industry grows and brings up more and more people of all stripes and genders that these things will become non-issues. After all, the Universe does not care who studies and explores it, nor will it show favoritism when it comes to encountering all the dangers inherent in the Final Frontier.

  7. Thanks for the details on Sally Ride–one of the more well-named professionals in history. We were just talking about her in the context of your anthology. Too bad her partner won’t even get a pension.

  8. […] Most thoughtful details on Ride–and on other women astronauts–are found on Athena’s blog. “Sally Kristen Ride, one of the iconic First Others in space flight, recently died at the […]

  9. Thank you for a thoughtful obituary and overview of her career as an astronaut. I lived through it all and the anti-women in NASA hurt a lot because I also believed in NASA (still do). When Sally Ride went up I was deeply happy. I still wish there had been Mercury 13. But Sally Ride leaves a magnificent legacy. May we live up to it.

  10. Athena says:

    Larry, you’re right that for most of the 1st and 2nd generation astronauts it was a jock competition. I wouldn’t put high expectations on private enterprise filling the vacuum left by NASA’s evisceration. I know how that played out in biomedical research and the Internet: even when the federal initiatives have established something, most private enterprise is focused on short-term profit even if it damages long-term prospects.

    Joan, we were indeed! The world (and our anthology) will be poorer without Ride’s presence. It is my ardent hope that because NASA is a federal agency they found a way for her partner to receive survivor benefits.

    Dr. Hardman, you’re very welcome! Like you, I tend to give NASA a long rope — but the CYA shenanigans around the shuttle explosions (especially Challenger) and their jawdropping handling of the “arsenic bacteria” has severely taxed my patience.

  11. Caliban says:

    She will be missed.

    It’s interesting to mention the Challenger accident. I’ve now forgotten the details, but there were early reports of engineers who warned against launch–so much so that when later reporters started taking NASA’s line and blamed the engineers, my jaw dropped. I remember that part quite clearly.

  12. Athena says:

    The traditional protocol was that the engineers could veto a launch for any reason, up to the end of the countdown. The Challenger launch was the first time that the managers were allowed to override the engineers, partly to give Reagan a cherry to top his Address to the Nation cake. Both Marshall Center and Morton-Thiokol engineers had been aware of the O-ring problem since 1977 and had already raised the alarm, but publicity and financial considerations prevailed. The explosion, with its loss of life and momentum, was completely preventable: they could have grounded the shuttle and redesigned the rings. The rings were not certified below 40 F — NASA was just “lucky” that all launches until then had happened in relatively warm weather.

  13. Walden2 says:

    The whole deal with the Space Shuttle SRBs is the same reason that automobiles did not start coming regularly equipped with seat belts until the 1950s and air bags until the 1980s: To save money. Sure, a few people here and there would get killed in their absence, but that’s life!

    I am on the fence about private space efforts myself, but unless the government starts to really get its act together, the private sector may be our only hope of permanently being out there. It may end up being a mess for a while, but either the space effort will get organized or we can enjoy a nice long stay on Earth, where “harmonizing with nature” will come with a very high cost.

  14. Walden2 says:

    Let us not forget Eileen Collins, who was the first female astronaut pilot of a Space Shuttle in 1995 and went on to command an entire Shuttle mission in 1999, when they deployed the Chandra X-Ray Observatory.

  15. Walden2 says:

    There were plans to have the Voskhod 3 mission crew be all women cosmonauts. There was also a plan for an all-woman crew on a Space Shuttle mission.

  16. Athena says:

    I mention Eileen Collins and her First in the article. *smile*

    I think an all-woman crew will be an interesting experiment. It might prove once and for all that the similarities between the genders far outweigh the differences. But people are notorious for rejecting obvious evidence that goes against their prejudices.

  17. Christopher Phoenix says:

    The Mercury astronauts’ “fighter jock” mentality underscored the fact that our early space efforts were not aimed at the stars, but at proving our technical superiority to the Soviets. While our first rockets climbed a bit closer to the stars, the majority of humans kept their eyes firmly locked on terrestrial politics and fears. The whole space race was a political stunt, driven by the knowledge that if the Soviets could send up Sputnik, the same launch vehicle could land a nuclear weapon on a U.S. city. Once that hysteria was gone, politicians quickly cancelled all the programs aimed landing a human on Mars.

    Nonetheless, countless starry-eyed “space cadets” continue to whine about how today’s youth have fallen from “the golden days of Apollo” when everyone was united in their excitement over “man exploring space!!”. They ignore, or are ignorant of, the fact that Apollo was just an expensive political stunt. The point of Apollo wasn’t exploration, or science, or paving the way for a Moon base- it was just landing a couple men on the Moon so we could say we had done it. A space effort aimed at staying would look entirely different from Apollo.

    By the way, Athena, do you have any recommendations for good SF novels? I’ve been having the hardest time finding any SF stories I can tolerate. I’ve tried some Arthur C. Clarke, but found him dull. I’m particularly interested in authors who can actually write stories that are readable, have interesting settings, characters who don’t resemble cardboard cutouts, and a plot. For some reason, modern SF fans seem to think that a story isn’t SF unless it is only about “big ideas” or made up technology rather than people.

  18. Athena says:

    Indeed the Mercury and Apollo forays were equal parts national vanity and political grandstanding. The unexpected boon was the boost to science and technology, which has since largely subsided as people got back to “business as usual”.

    I can recommend a number of SF novels or novella/story collections, although I cannot guarantee that you’ll like them!

    C. J. Cherryh, Downbelow Station
    C. S. Friedman, In Conquest Born
    Donald Kingsbury, Courtship Rite
    Valerie Freireich, Becoming Human
    Alexander Jablokov, Carve the Sky
    Melissa Scott, Shadow Man
    Joan Slonczewski, A Door into Ocean
    Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
    Roger Zelazny, Jack of Shadows
    Tanith Lee, The Silver Metal Lover
    Emma Bull, Falcon
    Joan Vinge, Eyes of Amber (collection)
    Vonda McIntyre, Fireflood (collection)
    Ursula Le Guin, A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (collection)
    James Tiptree, Starsongs of an Old Primate (collection)
    Poul Anderson, The Earth Book of Stormgate (collection)

  19. […] Astrogator’s Logs » Blog Archive » Those Who Never Got to Fly […]

  20. Andy Lee says:

    Thanks for this.

  21. Adam says:

    The injustice of such sexism isn’t something we want to cart into space. Maybe when we do get out there, such rubbish will be properly weaned out of us – at least the space-faring off-shoot.

  22. Athena says:

    Andy, you’re welcome!

    Adam, that rather depends on the mindset of those who get to go. Dysfunctional social systems persist for millennia, even in circumstances where it’s clear they’re hurting viability. Joanna Russ’ We Who Are About To… or Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Dead in Irons are the proper cautionary tales in this instance.

  23. Excellent piece. I’m sure Sally Ride would have appreciated you discussing the Mercury 13 as well. The bias against women was so strong in the beginning of the space program that I expected that I’d be lucky to see women astronauts in my lifetime; Ride and the others broke the glass ceiling there earlier than I expected.

    I think your theory that the human race will only truly thrive when we leave behind our gender inequities fits in nicely with mine that the human race has a long way to go before we become truly civilized. I think you’re right: we can’t really become civilized so long as we treat part of the human race as less than human, and that applies to our attitudes about race and ethnicity as well. As for the study Barkeron linked to, I suspect that a careful analysis of it will expose flaws similar to those found in studies purporting to find huge differences in male and female brains. Rebecca Jordan-Young takes those apart in her book Brain Storm.

    As for Arthur C. Clarke, he did do some interesting predictive technological SF, but like most male writers of the so-called Golden Age, he assumed the roles assigned to the sexes were unchangeable. In the end, it makes most of that fiction laughably dated and keeps us from seeing some of the good ideas tucked in the corners.

  24. Athena says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Nancy! I recently discussed some aspects of what Barkeron mentioned from an angle (alas) again/still relevant to SF/F: That Shy, Elusive Rape Particle — with additional pertinent bibliography at the end. I should add Jordan-Young’s book to that list!

    What you describe in your last paragraph is one reason why my term for the Clarke/Asimov SF era is The Leaden Age. Another is that they were simply awful writers even by the standards of their own time.

  25. Alex Tolley says:

    It surprises me that “womens’ liberation” started in the 1960’s, over 40 years ago (2 generations), but that US society has only made halting moves towards equality. The US still has not had a woman President (The Republicans could’t field a serious candidate for 2012), boardrooms are still male dominated and any institution with power you can shake a stick at is still male (usually white) dominated. With universities starting to be graduate more women than men, maybe equality will emerge in another generation or two…maybe.

    Nasa also reflects the US’s puritanism, especially with regards sex. The “sexual revolution” may have been invented in the US, but one could be forgiven for wondering quite what happened. How many US congressmen would echo Clarke’s comments today?

  26. That’s another excellent piece, Athena. It makes my mind go off in a number of directions. I’ll have to read it again and think about it some more.

    I did a piece for the Cascadia Subduction Zone on good critiques of the bad science behind a lot of reports of so-called male/female brain different (available here in PDF: and we also did a very good panel at the last WisCon on the subject, which I’m in the process of writing up for the next issue of the WisCon Chronicles.

  27. Athena says:

    Gender equality, even on paper, is in fact receding partly as a result of the economic downturn, partly as the Overton window has shifted down due to the savage, unrelenting backlash of the Teabaggers and those who fund them: the “miscarriage is murder” provisions creeping into state legislations, the effective disappearance of abortion clinics, the rankly hypocritical “controversy” over contraception.

    NASA has refused to study sex (broadly defined) in space even in animals — they stopped funding studies of organisms past bacteria at some point, primarily to bypass this political/social boulder. If that is meant to help us launch crewed missions or starships, the correct summation of it is “unclear on the concept”.

  28. Athena says:

    I now remember I read your CSZ article, Nancy. An excellent overview of the flaws and problems of such studies (I read Jones’ Shora Revisited, too, and could not agree more with her). I also recall you asked me if I was planning to come to WisCon because you were thinking of inviting me to be part of that particular panel. I was sorry I could not come last year, that panel alone was incentive enough.

  29. Walden2 says:

    I have a book from 1964 about the planet Mars where the male author said that he didn’t know if we would ever set up permanent colonies on Mars because women would want to take lots of dresses, makeup, purses, and shoes and there probably wouldn’t be enough room for them on the rocket ships.

    I suppose decades from now people will be shocked at the stupid things we thought were correct.

  30. Athena says:

    Yes, and according to Carson, Ride needed a purse matching her shoes… on the shuttle. As for clutter, what about guys’ golf clubs and toy trains? To say nothing of high school sport trophies.

  31. Adam says:

    Nice obit for Sally Ride on “New Scientist” by Lisa Grossman, who wants to claim her as an LGBT role-model for science. A cool legacy IMO…

  32. Athena says:

    Lisa makes an important point: we want to see a bit of ourselves in people we admire. The other side of this coin is that if people we admire are non-default, our unquestioned boundaries shift or fade. Ambient belonging is certainly powerful — although I, for one, swam determinedly against it. And have the scars to show for it.

  33. Walden2 says:

    Speaking of contemporary trends:

    When the Mercury 7 were first interviewed by the media as a group in 1959, one of the very first question from a journalist present was how many of the astronauts smoked and could they handle going without a cigarette for a few days up in space? Three of them raised their hands and all of them said they could go without lighting up during their missions.

    NASA recently came out with a book on “The Psychology of Space Exploration”:

  34. Athena says:

    That would have been a non-issue even then: they could have used chewing tobacco.

  35. Alex Tolley says:

    Gender equality, even on paper, is in fact receding … due to the savage, unrelenting backlash of the Teabaggers and those who fund them..

    A significant fraction of women voters are voting for politicians promulgating these policies and therefore undermining/undoing the progress made.

  36. Athena says:

    Alex, please refer to the quote from my book within the article, in which I state “Women are not better than men, nor are they different in any way that truly matters.” That includes women who are Teabaggers, women who uphold/upheld the status quo for love, advantage or simple survival, etc. However, this all occurs in a context of ubiquitous, all-pervasive kyriarchy in which women had (and continue to have) relatively little input or control. If the world were a matriarchy — or even a real equal-rights universe — your comment would be entirely valid. Now, less so.

  37. Cora says:

    Great post, Athena.

    To my shame, I don’t remember Sally Ride’s flight, though I was fascinated by spaceflight in general and space shuttles in particular at the time (I was ten in 1983). I strongly suspect that the German media did not really stress the novelty of NASA sending women into space (Sally Ride’s death was not reported in our media either) – either that or my ten-year-old self did not pay much attention, because I simply assumed that there’d always been female astronauts. I had a book about Soviet spaceflight, courtesy of an East German aunt, so I had seen photos of female cosmonauts and simply assumed that there had been female astronauts since the 1960s as well. I remember how shocked I was when I realized years later that there hadn’t been an American woman in space until 1983.

    As for Arthur C. Clarke, I discovered him (apart from a few short stories in Playboy of all places) via the collaborations he did with Paul Preuss in the late 1980s. The series was called Venus Prime. I liked those books a lot and a large part of the reason why I liked them was that they had a great female protagonist. A couple of years later, a bunch of (male) SF fans assured me that those Venus Prime books hadn’t been proper Clarke, so I sought out the unadulterated version and ugh.

  38. Athena says:

    Thank you, Cora! I wrote it precisely because it’s easy to forget this important history. Paul Preuss wrote Secret Passages, one of the few SF stories about Crete from an outsider that I really like. It’s hard to find but worth the search effort. Beautiful writing, fascinating premise. So I suspect he was the reason you liked Venus Prime.

  39. […] Athena Andreadis has a lovely appreciation of Sally Ride and those female American astronauts who ne…, no matter how qualified they were. […]

  40. intrigued_scribe says:

    Thoughtful and thought-provoking article on Sally Ride; thanks for sharing this excellent post.

    “Women are not better than men, nor are they different in any way that truly matters; they are as eager to soar, and as entitled.”

    As much now as when it was released, this remains profoundly relevant.

    As far as Arthur C. Clarke goes, I haven’t read his collaborations with Paul Preuss, which sound interesting — though I passed up “unadulterated Clarke” after coming across his comments about women in the space program, and continue to — as do the recs offered above (Joan Vinge’s work and The Silver Metal Lover remain among my favorites).

  41. Athena says:

    I’m glad you liked it, dear Heather! That recommendation list could be much longer, but they get overwhelming fast. The Silver Metal Lover is myth presented in SF mode, something I like very much.

  42. Jim Fehlinger says:

    Christopher Phoenix wrote:

    > I’ve been having the hardest time finding any SF stories I can
    > tolerate. I’ve tried some Arthur C. Clarke, but found him dull.

    Well, two of his earlier novels are rightly considered classics:
    _The City and the Stars_, and _Childhood’s End_. I don’t
    recall them as being dull.

    > I’m particularly interested in authors who can actually write stories
    > that are readable, have interesting settings, characters who don’t
    > resemble cardboard cutouts, and a plot.

    Here’s a suggestion for you. I read it back when it was
    published in 1991, and again a few years ago, and it’s definitely
    a winner (especially if you enjoy explorations of the transhuman):
    _Brain Child_ by the late George Turner (an Australian).

    And in the same vein, Olaf Stapledon’s _Odd John_ and _Sirius_
    (these often come in the same volume).

  43. Athena says:

    Jim — tastes differ, of course. For example, I found Childhood’s End simplistic and clunky. A reader’s impressions of a writer depend on many things — including how many flags a work pings, as well as your age (and relevant exposure/experience) when you read it.

  44. Alex says:

    Excellent article, if depressing in places. (I guessed that someone had made a bouncing-breasts comment even before I got to your reference to Clarke. Ugh. Ugh.)

    I will definitely look for the Mercury 13 book in the KCL library once I’m back there. Thank you for directing my attention to it!

  45. Athena says:

    Yes, it’s one of those comments that you steel yourself to expect. Which shows how “even” the ground is. Because, yanno, astronauts would be working without clothes… in which case, what about bouncing penises? But that would just be the friendly locker milieu. It’s depressing, infuriating and exhausting that such poisonous crap is not merely uttered but also influences real decisions — and that those who utter it are still considered “visionaries”.

  46. Jim Fehlinger says:

    > It’s depressing, infuriating and exhausting that such
    > poisonous crap is not merely uttered but also influences
    > real decisions

    I was browsing a little while ago in a months-old issue of
    _Newsweek_, and read an article with the headline “Jackie, Oh No!”,
    discussing Mimi Alford’s revelations about her time as
    a White House intern under President Kennedy in 1962-1963.
    ( )

    One remark in particular caught my eye:

    “Today’s young women may wonder why it took Alford so long
    to assert herself. And yet anyone who remembers the world
    before the women’s movement will recognize the toxic cultural
    assumptions that shaped the expectations of both men and
    women in such scenarios.”

  47. Athena says:

    Not even in past tense: if you read the recently issued armed forces rape report, you’d know that those who “assert” themselves just get additional abuse heaped on them.

  48. Alex Tolley says:

    A tangential, but related article in the Grauniad about women being sexually harassed on the streets of Belgium. Where is this behavior learned from? Certainly not from their mothers.

  49. Athena says:

    I remember very vividly similar situations in Greece — personal experiences, too, when I barely had breasts (let alone afterwards). Most men have zero idea what a daily drizzle of harassment is like and what it does to its recipients.

  50. Walden2 says:

    Here is another story about a woman who wanted to do something career-wise with the Final Frontier back when it was considered a man’s world – How Jill Tarter eventually got to be head of The SETI Institute: