March 31, 2008
Wally Funk, one of the first
American women to undergo astronaut testing, and Martha Ackmann,
author of a book about the short-lived "Mercury 13" program in
the early 1960s, will give a joint talk, "The Mercury 13: Women
and the Dream of Space Flight," at 7 p.m., Tuesday, April 8, in
Kresge Hall, Ford Center for the Fine Arts, Knox College,
Galesburg, Illinois. The talk is free and open to the public.
Funk and Ackmann are visiting
Knox as part of a program to encourage more women to undertake
careers in physics and computer science, sponsored by a grant
from the Clare Boothe Luce Foundation. While on campus, they
also will meet with students in an interdisciplinary course,
Science and the Social Construction of Race and Gender. The
course is using Ackmann's critically acclaimed book, "The
Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen American Women and the
Dream of Space Flight," as one of its texts.
"This year marks the 25th
anniversary of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride,
who flew on the Space Shuttle in 1983," said Mary Crawford,
associate professor of chemistry and one of the professors
teaching the course. "Martha Ackmann shows that more than 20
years before 1983, Wally Funk and a dozen other American women
were ready to go into space, but were denied the opportunity."
The youngest of the 13 women who
secretly underwent the rigorous astronaut testing program in
1961, Funk is a highly accomplished flight instructor. She was
the first woman to complete the Federal Aviation
Administration's training for General Aviation Operations
Inspector, the first woman specialist in the FAA's Systems
Worthiness Analysis Program, and the first woman Air Safety
Investigator with the National Transportation Safety Board. In
2006 she gave the commencement address and was awarded an
honorary degree by her alma mater, Stephens College.
At Knox, Ackmann will give the
public lecture, and Funk will join her for the question and
The "Mercury 13," as the women
were called, were all experienced pilots and, between January
and August 1961, passed the same tests as the men in NASA's
astronaut testing program, who had been dubbed the "Mercury 7."
But before the women could undergo the flight simulation phase
of testing in the fall of 1961, "NASA pulled the plug and
abruptly stopped the secret project," Ackmann wrote on her web
site. "Some said the women had scored too well on the grueling
tests and posed a threat to the astronaut program. Others feared
that if women were allowed to become astronauts, they might
demand other jobs as well." Two years later, the Soviet Union
sent the first woman into space.
The Mercury 13 "sometimes
sacrificed jobs and marriages for a chance to participate in
America's space race against the Soviet Union," Ackmann wrote.
"Their struggle paved the way for today's women astronauts and
helped open doors for all women in jobs that some see as
unconventional, improper or dangerous."
Ackmann is senior lecturer in
gender studies at Mount Holyoke College. "The Mercury 13" was
selected as one of the top nonfiction books of 2004 by BookMarks
magazine and the Boston Globe. The book also won the Amelia
Earhart Medal and the media prize from the American Institute of
Aeronautics and Astronautics.
In addition to the Clare Booth
Luce grant, other co-sponsors are the Office of the Dean of the
College, the Cultural Events Committee, and student
organizations including Physics Club, Chemistry Club, and
Students Against Sexism in Society.
Founded in 1837, Knox is a
national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with
students from 45 states and 44 nations. Knox's "Old Main" is a
National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from
the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.