"The Mercury 13"

First off, I'm a HUGE Wally Funk fan. She is an outstanding aviator with amazing credentials. She is exactly what I call "A pilot's pilot" and an aviator that everyone should look up to. Like so many of us she always had the desire to fly in space and now, thanks to Blue Origin and Jeff Bezos, she did just that.

With that said, I think it's time to quell this "Mercury 13" fiction.

First off the, the term, "Mercury 13" never existed until the mid 1990s when it was coined to title a TV program that simply alleged that somehow NASA recruited a group of women pilots with the promise that they would be astronauts, ran them through medical testing and then simply cut them off and cast them aside.

That is complete bunk... but hey... it was in a book in 2003 too... so it must be true... right?

The fact is that Dr. Lovelace, of the Lovelace Clinic, which had tested the Mercury astronaut candidates, on his own, and without NASA's consent or request, decided to begin testing women to the same standards as they had tested the 32 men a year earlier.

NASA's Mercury Astronauts were notified of their selection in the first week of April 1959. That was a full year before Lovelace began his independent testing of women.

NASA did NOT "cut them off" or "cut them out" or "abandon" them. The women who Lovelace tested, although outstanding female pilots all, were never in consideration in the first place. The original letter seeking astronauts went out in 1958 to 110 military test pilots- all were men. 

Lovelace later sent out letters to 13 of the women stating that they had passed the medical portion of testing and asked if they would like to return for "further training." The group assumed that Lovelace was representing NASA- but he wasn't. He was only representing the Lovelace Clinic.

In the mid 1960s those same women pilots that Lovelace had tested made an effort to be considered as astronaut candidates, but the hardware had already been developed at great expense and NASA's focus was on simply getting the male pilots into and back from space alive. From reading some of management's accounts of that time, they initially had no idea who these women were.

Frankly, and this is just my opinion, the political pressure applied by that effort on the behalf of the women likely irritated some of the more narrow-minded men in upper NASA management. It was one more unnecessary political issue for the agency to have to deal with- and those fellows had very long memories. Just read Chris Kraft's book and you'll see.

Thus, it was not until the 1970s when the prospect of the Shuttle flying "like an airliner" came along that NASA management finally opened the doors to female crew members as well as female pilots.

Disdain toward women in aviation, however, was a very real thing through all of aviation history and right up into modern times. I personally flew with an old fart captain in 1998 who would boisterously say that he resented women in the cockpit and he would, "...never fly with one of them." Which is ironic as this attitude existed in an era when aviators such as Eileen Collins where piloting the Space Shuttle. Meanwhile that guy was universally known as the worst pilot in our entire pilot group. (My wife nearly clocked that loudmouth at the company Christmas party. One more glass of wine and I'm pretty sure she'd have knocked him on his ass).

Yet, when I came into the aviation industry in 1977 women were simply a part of the pilot group. I trained with them and my second flight instructor was a woman. My favorite ground instructor at ERAU was Dana Middlekhoff who was a long time aviator. I had female flight partners and later managed women who were flight instructors plus I crewed with many women in the airlines... no big deal. 

So my attitude is that we're all flyers. Let's simply stick to the actual history.

The "Mercury 13" is a myth made up for a 1990s TV show. But, Wally Funk, IS a true aviator.