In the early 60s, 13 women undertook secret tests at Nasa to see if they could become astronauts. The Mercury 13, as they are now known, undertook the same tough mental and physical tests as the famous silver-suited Mercury 7.
Those latter all-American heroes included John Glenn and played an important part in the space race against the Soviet Union, eventually placing a man on the Moon.
The Mercury 7 tests, memorably detailed in Tom Wolfe’s book The Right Stuff (later a film), pushed the men to their physical limits. The doctor who devised them, William Randolph Lovelace, was also head of Nasa’s Special Committee on Bioastronautics. Lovelace had successfully tested one female pilot, Jerrie Cobb, in 1960 and now wanted to see if it was a one off or if other women could pass. Aviatrix Jackie Cochran helped fund it and the chosen women were all accomplished pilots, some with more flying hours than Glenn, and they were prepared to attend at a moment’s notice.