One Went Twice, One Tried Twice

Geraldyn M. “Jerrie” Cobb poses next to a Mercury spaceship capsule.

by John Hertz: (reprinted from No Direction Home 25) Earlier (here) I told of Owen Garriott 1930-2019 (age 88), the first astronaut to operate an amateur radio station from Space (call sign W5LFL).  He was the science pilot of Skylab 3 (1973); he went again on Space Shuttle Columbia (1983).

Geraldyn M. Cobb 1931-2019 (also age 88) died a month earlier.  She had a solo pilot’s license at 16; both a private and a commercial pilot’s license by 18.  She went on to earn Multi-Engine, Instrument, Flight Instructor, and Ground Instructor ratings, and an Airline Transport license.  At age 19 she was teaching men to fly.  At 21 she was delivering fighters and four-engine bombers to foreign Air Forces around the world.  At 29 she had logged 7,000 hours in the cockpit.  She had set world records for speed, distance, and absolute altitude.  She was the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show.

In 1960 William Randolph Lovelace II 1907-1965, a United States physician, was head of the U.S. Nat’l Aeronautics & Space Adm’n Special Committee on Bioastronautics.  He and Brig. Gen. Donald Flickinger invited Cobb to undergo the physical testing regimen developed by the Lovelace Foundation for Medical Education & Research, Albuquerque, New Mexico, to help select the first NASA astronauts.  She was the first woman to pass.  Twelve more followed.  The program had not been authorized by NASA.  It was cancelled.

Cobb wrote to President Kennedy and saw Vice President Johnson.  On 17-18 Jul 62, U.S. Representative Victor Anfuso (Democrat – 8th District of New York; served in 82nd, 84th-87th Congresses 1951-1953, 1955-1963; lived 1905-1966) held public hearings before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science & Astronautics.  Cobb testified “We women pilots…. seek only a place in our nation’s Space future without discrimination.”  NASA required all astronauts to be graduates of military jet test-piloting programs, and have engineering degrees; no woman met those requirements.  No action resulted.  Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova (1937-  ) became the first woman in Space on 16 Jun 63.

Cobb undertook a career as a missionary pilot to indigenous people of the Amazon jungle.  For the next 48 years, typically flying solo in her Aero Commander, using self-drawn maps and pioneering air routes across rainforests and the Andes Mountains, she enabled deliveries of clothing, food, medicine, and seeds.  In 1973, President Nixon awarded her the Harmon Trophy, naming her “the top woman pilot in the world.”

In 1998, NASA announced it was sending John Glenn 1921-2016 back into Space at age 77 to study effects on an older human body.  Cobb asked to go.  The Nat’l Organization for Women campaigned for her.  She was 67.  She was not sent.

She was placed in the Nat’l Aviation Hall of Fame in 2012.  R.I.P.

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