The 2008 documentary film She Should Have Gone to the Moon deals with this period in history.

See Dr Susan Hawkins’ Space Women in Time PowerPoint presentation in our Learning Resources section for more information.

The 1970s

In the early 1960s, researcher William Randolph Lovelace II invited a total of 20 female pilots to undergo fitness testing in order to assess whether the women could successfully go into space. Thirteen of the chosen women passed the tests, which looked at blood circulation, exhaustion, stomach acids, vertigo and other physical stresses that might be expected in space. The researchers believed that women, being smaller and lighter than men, might be better equipped to go into space.

In 1962, a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics found that the thirteen women who had passed the tests would not be able to join the space programme as NASA required all astronauts to be trained military jet pilots – and at the time, women could not enter the US Air Force.

Despite media criticism of NASA’s decision not to allow women into space (especially after Valentina Tereshkova became the first female cosmonaut in 1963), the situation continued unchanged until 1978 when Sally Ride was selected for the Space Shuttle programme. It would be 1983 before Ride went into space, meaning the 1970s was a time of great space exploration but no female involvement.