(Recorded for the archives in the Air and Space Drama Museum.)
I worked the wings during NASA Theatre’s early days. My boss, Dr Randy Lovelace and his mate, General Flickinger, expanded NASA’s first space play, Round the World in 80 minutes, to include ‘astronettes’.
The auditions starred Jerrie Cobb, with world aviation records for speed and altitude. Talent scout and financier, Jackie Cochran, assembled twelve others backstage, much more than ‘soft recreational equipment’. The women sweated the same dress rehearsals as the men for centrifuge ego-forces, monologue in a darkened theatre, lung capacity, pain tolerance for bad reviews, and equilibrium recovery.
The Mercury 13 women outsang and outdanced the Mercury 7. If the A-Team had been monkeys, Chris Kraft, the Flight Director, would have had them centre-stage on the launch pad. The NASA Boys’ Club blacked out the pizzazz of the star-spangled vaudevillians Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson, and Laura Ingalls.
All-American hero, John Glenn, piloted drama critics at a Congressional performance in 1963 against women getting a gig on the big space stage. No kitchen or laundry graced the space capsule’s control deck for weightless women to display their talents.
Jerrie Cobb, Wally Funk, and Jerri Truhill could never launch their names in lights. The Capitol reviewers declared the NASA Playhouse an all-male revue without any transvestite sideshow. Those astral-dazzling women fell to earth. No cow jumped over the moon, or onto it.
In 1998, Senator Glenn, 77, gazumped the surviving Mercury 13 in another coup-de-théâtre via Space Shuttle Discovery touting the old NASA box-office rationale of propagating Apollo while obliterating his twin sister, Artemis. ‘One small step for a man …’ says it all.