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Promised the Moon

In the early 1960s, the thirteen women who called themselves the Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees faced greater challenges than the ones the scientists threw at them. Superbly qualified pilots, they were eager to participate in the American space race. But their country wasn't ready for them, and their desire to orbit the earth never got off the ground. In Promised the Moon: The Untold Story of the First Women in the Space Race, Stephanie Nolen tells their extraordinary story.

Scroll down for information about the book and author, a timeline of important events and pioneering women in aviation and space history, and a list of related links.

About the Book

"One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." Those famous words by Neil Armstrong marked the landing on the moon of U.S. astronauts in 1969. But there was a group of women who had hoped that they, too, might be among those space pioneers. In Promised the Moon, Stephanie Nolen tells the remarkable, behind-the-scenes tale of these little-known but outstanding women.

In 1959, the doctor who supervised the selection of NASA's first astronauts (all men) concluded that women—smaller, lighter and more tolerant of pain and isolation—might actually be better for the job. That doctor, Randy Lovelace, put twenty-five of the top female pilots in the United States through his tests, and finished with thirteen superb candidates. They equalled or bettered the performance of male astronauts such as John Glenn and Alan Shepard in the initial tests. Lovelace launched a clandestine woman-in-space program, and the thirteen women started to believe they might lead their country into space.

But in 1961 the program was abruptly and mysteriously cancelled. The women put up a fight and won themselves a hearing before Congress. But John Glenn showed up to mock their efforts—and at the crucual hour, the women were suddenly betrayed by one of their own.

Acclaimed journalist Stephanie Nolen has tracked down the eleven surviving members of the "Fellow 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, age eighty-one and a founder of the National Organization for Women, lives on a boat she sails solo in the Caribeean. 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 cultural climate and political manoevering 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 cling to the hope they will make that journey one day.

Click here to read more about the book.

About the Author

Stephanie Nolen is a reporter for The Globe and Mail, where she covers national and international affairs. Born in Montreal in 1971, she grew up there and in Ottawa. She studied journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax, and later obtained an MSc in economic development from the London School of Economics in England. Nolen got her first job as a reporter, for an Ottawa paper, at 15; she was editor of a Halifax paper at 20, and started to work at the Globe a year later. Frustrated by the limited opportunities in Canada in the early 1990s, she threw notepad into backpack and moved to a village in the West Bank. She learned Arabic and spent the next four years covering the Middle East, from wars and bus bombings to camel races and Israeli hockey lessons, for Newsweek, The Globe and Mail and The Independent.

She donned a full hijab to live with radical young women at the Islamic University of Gaza. She also spent time with the Bedouin in the Egyptian Sinai, but decided it was time to move on when a heard of stray camels ate away the palm-branch roof of her hut. To cover the war in Sudan, she spent weeks hiking through swamps to the front lines with the Sudanese Peoples' Liberation Army. The commander was so impressed with her resilience—and her skill with a Swiss Army knife—that he wanted to make her his first female guerrilla.

Now based in Toronto, Nolen has recently covered stories including the riots over General Pinochet's arrest in Santiago de Chile, the refugee crisis in Tanzania, and rape in the Canadian military. She speaks four languages, plays rugby, and is learning the trapeze.

Timeline

Move your mouse over the dates below to learn about critical events and figures in the history of aviation and space flight.

 

Links

To learn more about women aviators and astronauts, click on one of the links below and a new window will open.

The National Aviation Museum's exhibit on Canadian women in aviation

The International Women's Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio

The official website of The Ninety-Nines International Organization of Women Pilots

NASA's online exhibit devoted to Women's Achievements in Flight and Space

A website devoted to the original Mercury 13 and their achievements.