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Anniversaries of Note

The 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing was celebrated this past Saturday (July 20) by many around the world who, rightfully, recognize the feat as one of America’s greatest achievements. But alas, the social justice sotted journalists out there, whose lack of historical context and ignorance of true oppression makes their reality bubble impenetrable, just had to find fault with it. The complaint is now that NASA and its Apollo program’s misogynistic gender bias kept women from going to the moon, and continues to make it more difficult for female astronauts to this day.

More than 20 years before Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space back in 1983, thirteen women pilots successfully completed the tests used in the initial Mercury Astronaut Candidate Testing Program. The first woman to participate, Jerrie Cobb, was even tested in the multiple axis space test inertia facility at the Lewis Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and passed with flying colors. The testing was initiated by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace, who was responsible for screening candidates for the Mercury training program. After testing male candidates, he decided to see if women might also be suitable for spaceflight.

The testing began in 1960. Twenty outstanding women pilots were recruited; thirteen successfully completed the initial testing. One of the participants, Bernice Steadman of Traverse City, Michigan, says the hardest part of the testing wasn’t any of the physical discomforts—such as having ice water injected in the ears or swallowing three feet of rubber tubing—but the overwhelming disappointment she felt when the decision was made to discontinue the testing of women in July 1961, because President Eisenhower had mandated that the original NASA astronauts be test pilots.

The decision came after 12 of the women had successfully passed the first phase and were eager to follow Jerrie Cobb, who had completed subsequent phases of the testing. The women lobbied Congress to be reinstated to the training program, but were quietly ignored after Vice President Lyndon Johnson, who wanted no part of a female astronaut corps, quashed their aspirations by writing in big bold letters, “LET’S STOP THIS NOW!” in a note to NASA.

Ultimately, in 1978, NASA announced the names of 35 new astronaut candidates, including a group of six women to officially belong to a new astronaut class—Shannon W. Lucid, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Judith A. Resnik, Anna L. Fisher and Sally K. Ride. Since then, more than 40 American women have entered space, serving on the various shuttle flights from 1983 to 2011, with some assigned as crew members on the International Space Station. In 1986, astronauts Judith Resnick and Christa McAauliffe when their space shuttle Challenger exploded, shortly after takeoff.

Now, if all those social justice warriors out there really wanted to address a real instance of political gender bias and misogyny, I suggest they acquaint themselves with the observance of the 50th anniversary of Senator Ted Kennedy’s “portrait of courage” when his car “lifted off” from a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island in Massachusetts on a Saturday on the evening of July 18, 1969, just as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon, and landed upside down in the tidal Poucha Pond.

 “The Lion of the Senate” managed to extricate himself from the car, leaving 28-year-old Mary Jo Kopechne, a respected political operative who had worked on the presidential campaign of Senator Kennedy’s brother, Robert Kennedy, alone and dying in the car submerged in six feet of water. Gentleman Ted made his way home to other members of his royal family and did not report the matter to police until 10 a.m the next morning. By the time assistance returned to the scene, many hours later, Mary Jo was dead, having drowned or otherwise suffocated. Of course, due to the delay in notifying the police, no blood test to ascertain Kennedy’s alcohol levels at the time of the incident was possible. Kennedy denied drinking that night but after his death in 2009, his own son admitted that Teddy was a self-medicating alcoholic suffering from post-traumatic stress due to the assassinations of his two brothers, Jack (1963) and Bobby (1968).

Who knows, absent Senator Kennedy’s post-traumatic stress and less than stellar driving abilities, perhaps Mary Jo could have lived and gone on to join the ranks of today’s female astronauts. I guess we’ll never know.

Broad Channel, why would anyone want to live anywhere else?

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