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Jerrie Cobb, the first woman to pass all the same preflight tests as NASA's seven Mercury astronauts, has died.
Cobb, whose full first name was Geraldyn, was a record-setting pilot and an outspoken advocate for gender equality in spaceflight who dedicated her later life to Christian missionary work in the Amazon. She was also one of countless American women who have pushed back against sexism and reached for space. She died in March at age 88; her death wasn't publicly confirmed until yesterday (April 18).
NASA - Female - Astronaut - Candidate - Agency
She is sometimes called NASA's first female astronaut candidate, but she was not; the agency did not accept women as candidates until 1978, in the class that included Sally Ride, who would become the first American woman in space five years later. But Cobb aired her frustration with NASA's sexism openly, culminating in 1962, when she testified before Congress at hearings that essentially investigated whether the agency was discriminating against women, years before the practice was made illegal.
"She was optimistic in a moment when the U.S. space program still felt very new and open," Margaret Weitekamp, a historian at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, told Space.com.
History - Toll - Cobb - Legacy - Colleagues
History took its toll on Cobb and her legacy, leaving her and her colleagues, who were dubbed the Mercury 13 in the 1990s, deep in the shadows cast by Alan Shepard, John Glenn and their fellow astronauts. "The women of the Mercury 13 should have been just as famous," Ellen Stofan, former chief scientist of NASA and current director of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, told Space.com. "They should be inspiring girls today … they should have been there to inspire me."
But although Cobb never broke through the boundary of space, she still left her mark on the world, Weitekamp said. "I always think it's a shame...
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