Bernice Steadman did not share the same enthusiasm for John Glenn’s recent voyage into space as did most of the U.S. She did not even watch the famous astronaut and former senator’s launch into space.
Steadman was subjected to sexist comments made by Glenn in the 1960s concerning NASA’s Mercury 13, a group of women pilots trained as astronauts in 1961 but never sent into space.
“He called us ’90 pounds of recreational equipment,'” said Steadman. “We gave him a couple of opportunities to eat his words, and every time he’s just dug himself deeper.”
After the thirteen women were selected for NASA’s women’s training program, results from further testing indicated that the women were at least as fit as the men and in some cases better adapted for space.
Not one of the thirteen women trained in NASA’s space program was ever allowed to travel in space, because NASA chose to cancel the program. In 1962, Senator Phil Hart, husband of Mercury 13 member Jane Hart, led a congressional inquiry into the matter.
NASA Astronauts Glen and Alan Shepherd were present to argue against the inclusion of women. “It’s just a fact, said Glenn to the committee. “The men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes. That women are not in this field is just a fact of our social order.”
While the Soviet Union was the first to send a woman up in space in 1963, the United States did not send a woman for two more decades in 1983, when Sally Ride traveled aboard the shuttle Challenger.
Today at age 72, Steadman says she would still go up into space “in a flash” if someone where to give her the chance.