The Mercury 13
Janet Christine Dietrich left the Earth this month. In 1961 Dietrich (left) was one of 13 women given the same tests as men to become American astronauts. Dietrich was a pilot with 12,000 lifetime hours behind the stick. She won trophies in air races throughout the 1940's and 1950's. Despite passing all the same tests as the men, Dietrich and her sisters were never given the chance to reach Space.
Dietrich and her twin sister Marion (right) earned their student pilot certificates at age 16. After graduating from college Janet became chief pilot of Cessna. The twins won the first Chico-San Mateo Air Race in 1947, and placed second in the Women's Transcontinental Air Race ("Powder Puff Derby") in 1951. In 1960 Janet became the first American woman to earn an Airlkine Transport Pilot License.
In 1961 famed aviator Jacqueline Cochrane started a program to test women as astronauts. Janet, Marion and 11 others were invited to the Lovelace Clinic in Alburquerque where NASA astronauts were screened. The women passed the same rigorous tests as the men. Despite their success, the program was ended in 1961 without explanation. No American women reached orbit until 1983, and no woman has been beyond LEO.
Today most people agree that women can meet the same standards as men. Today women in aviation and science still face entrenched sexism. Despite the challenges, women have proven themselves in every field from piloting to physics. When men travel again to the Moon women will go too. If humanity is to reach Space, women must be part of the equation.