The Mercury 13 consisted of 13 women who, along with seven men known as the Mercury 7, underwent a series of rigorous tests. The tests were designed to determine whether or not humans could withstand the conditions they would face in space. Although these 13 women proved that women could also successfully make it in space, they did not receive the same level of attention as the men of the Mercury 7. In fact, these men became household names while the women remained virtually unknown.
The reason for the discrepancies between the fame of the two groups is quite simple: at the time, society did not consider it a woman’s place to be in space. Despite the fact that the female trainees proved their worth, they never had the chance to go to space.
“The social attitude of the time was that women should be hostesses, not pilots.” – Martha Ackmann, author.
Many of the tests the women of Mercury 13 endured are not even used on today’s astronaut trainees. For example, one test involved using electric shock on their forearms in order to test their ulnar nerve. In addition, ice water was shot into their ears in order to induce vertigo and the inner ear was frozen so doctors could time how long it took for them to recover. The women also used weighted stationary bicycles until they were completely exhausted in order to test their respiration. This is only a small sampling of what these women allowed themselves to be put through in the name of space travel.
The ceremony at the University of Wisconsin is the first to gather all of these women and to honor them for their sacrifice. The ceremony also follows hot on the heals of a book that is now being published about these women entitled The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight authored by Martha Ackmann.