The Space Glass Ceiling

They may have broken the pilot barrier

But space was another issue. Long before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, there was a group of women who ventured to break the space glass ceiling. This took place two years prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed into law. Without that law, the women were powerless to force the issue.

This was a private, not official program

What people do not realize is that while these women were taking tests to go into space, these tests were never an officially approved program. The testing was all privately funded. The program was constructed of three phases, with each conducting different tests.

Whether the tests were valid or not is not the issue. Since no American had been in space before, NASA and other scientists had no idea what kind of tests should be given to an astronaut, let alone women candidates. But the women were given the same tests that were going to be given to the men who qualified for the Mercury 7 program.

The criteria were fair

Many may point to the fact that most criteria that women endure to qualify for any program are not fair. Usually, those criteria are heavily favoring men and the omen results are often compared to their male counterparts’ results.

But in this case, the criteria used were designed for women only. One example was that the women invited to participate had to have a minimum amount of flying time. The benchmark was 1000 hours.

What kept the program private was that the women would not qualify to be astronauts under the then current NASA selection process.

The Russians were better at equality

There was something that made things worse for those women who entered the private training program. The Russians were far ahead of the Americans in the equality department.

They sent up a woman cosmonaut into space in 1963. While this was a one-time effort, NASA would not meet this challenge for another 20 years. 1983 saw Sally Ride become the first American women in space.

They paved the way

These first American women’s efforts have not been lost to history. Netflix has made a movie about their effort to travel in space. Their efforts did help to break the space glass ceiling but it did help pave the way for future female astronauts to go where they could not.