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Right Stuff, Wrong Sex

, 256 pages

10 halftones

October 2005



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Right Stuff, Wrong Sex

America's First Women in Space Program

Winner of the Eugene M. Emme Astronautical Literature Award of the American Astronautical Society

On June 17, 1963, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Curiously, unlike every previous milestone in the "space race," this event did not spur NASA to catch up by flying an American woman. Though there were suitable candidates-two years earlier, thirteen female pilots recruited by the private Woman in Space program had passed a strenuous physical exam and were ready for another stage of astronaut testing-American women would not escape earth's gravity for another twenty years.

In Right Stuff, Wrong Sex, Margaret Weitekamp shows how the Woman in Space program—conceived by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace and funded by world-famous pilot and businesswoman Jacqueline Cochran—challenged prevailing attitudes about women's roles and capabilities. In examining the experiences of the Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees (as the candidates called themselves), this book documents the achievements and frustrated hopes of a remarkable group of women whose desire to serve their country fell victim to hostility toward such aspirations. Drawing from archival research and interviews with participants, Weitekamp traces the rise and fall of the Woman in Space program within the context of the cold war and the thriving women's aviation culture of the 1950s. Weitekamp's study sheds light on a little-known but compelling chapter in the history of the U.S. space program and the rise of the women's movement in America.

Margaret A. Weitekamp is curator in the Division of Space History at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington, D.C.

"What this book does better than its competitors is to uncover and present the political story that killed the space program for women in this country."

"Weitekamp's clear prose, engaging style of storytelling, and rich analysis make this not only an important book but a lively and enjoyable read."

"The best, most balanced treatment available about the thirteen Fellow Lady Astronaut Trainees."

"The most carefully researched and analyzed account of this important chapter in the history of the U.S. space program... Highly recommended."

"A solidly researched, fact-driven account... Weitekamp is the rare historian who sees the big picture as well as the fine detail."

"Weitekamp gives us a well-researched... study of this pre-feminist movement attempt to put women into outer space."

"This book sets a high standard for future studies of space policy and gender in politics, and includes an outstanding essay on sources that will be of great assistance to students of women's and space history."

"Presents a well documented, skillfully crafted perspective on the stifling political, social, and cultural milieu in which thirteen aspiring female astronauts found themselves during the late 1950s and early 1960s."

"Weitekamp's vivid writing brings to life the texture of American life in what she calls the 'prefeminist' era."

"A solidly researched, fact-driven account of the brief flameout known as Women in Space program."

"This book offers a fascinating read for anyone interested in the early history of the American space program, as well as those non-spacers interested in women's studies."

"Weitekamp has done a terrific job of capturing a fascinating story."

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