Good morning, it’s Friday, March 5, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation meant to be inspiring. Today, I have two -- both concerning pioneer Geraldyn “Jerrie” Cobb, who was born this day in 1931. The first line comes from Cobb’s own 1962 congressional testimony in which she made the case for including women astronauts in this country’s space program.
The second comes from a later NASA astronaut who paid homage to Cobb and her sisters of the sky.
Jerrie Cobb was born and raised in Oklahoma, the daughter of a U.S. Army officer and a granddaughter of Ulysses S. Stone, a one-time Republican member of Congress. From the time she was a girl until her death two years ago, Jerrie Cobb had two passions: God and flying. She would combine those dual callings in a career as a bush pilot and Christian missionary who flew food and medicine on humanitarian sojourns in the Amazon and other inaccessible regions of the world. In 1981, she was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
When she died on March 18, 2019, her family released the following statement: “After living sixty-six adventure filled years as a pilot and advocate for female pilots, and sharing over fifty years of her life with the indigenous Indian tribes of the Amazon, Jerrie's humble smile and sky-blue eyes live on in our hearts. It is fitting that Jerrie was born in, and would leave us in, Woman's History Month.”
Her life might have taken a different turn had Cobb not learned that, for her generation, the “glass ceiling” extended into the heavens. At the outset of the U.S. space program, Dwight Eisenhower, an Army lifer, thought combat pilots and test pilots were the logical pool for astronaut candidates. That ruled out Jerrie Cobb and every other American female aviator, even though Cobb had flown dozens of different aircraft, possessed undeniable talent, and was eager to explore space.
It’s true she hadn’t flown jets or been in combat, but that was just another Catch-22: women weren’t allowed to fly combat missions -- and military fliers were first in line as test pilots. In 1959 and 1960, however, the husband of famed “aviatrix” Jacqueline Cochrane financed tests overseen by respected flight surgeon William R. Lovelace II and invited a select group of women to take it. Cobb aced them all, but it wasn’t enough, even after she appeared before a 1962 congressional subcommittee.
“We women pilots who want to be part of the research and participation in space exploration are not trying to join a battle of the sexes,” she said. “As pilots, we fly and share mutual respect with male pilots in the primarily man’s world of aviation. We very well know how to live together in our profession. We see, only, a place in our nation’s space future without discrimination.”
It wasn’t to be, at least not in the United States. In 1963, the Soviet Union sent cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. (A future member of the Duma, the Russian parliament, Tereshkova botched the USSR’s propaganda advantage by not only criticizing America for its sexism, but ridiculing Cobb for her Christian faith.)
Eventually American women, led by Sally Ride, did make it into space -- and then some. As the Houston Chronicle noted, news of Jerrie Cobb’s death came just one day after NASA announced that astronaut Christina Koch would make the longest female spaceflight in history, at 328 days. Anna Fisher, one of the first six women tapped by NASA in 1978 to join the astronaut corps, spoke for many of his sisters when she told the newspaper she was keenly aware of the contributions made by Cobb and her compatriots who were denied their chance to soar.
“They worked so hard, and they wanted it so badly, and then we came along and caught the wave at just the right time when society was changing,” said Fisher, who flew on the space shuttle in a 1984 mission. “I felt so grateful to them and sad, in a way, that they weren’t able to achieve their dream. But they did, in a way, by opening the door for us.”
And those are our quotes of the day.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.