In this unusual dual biography, the author delves into the lives of two pioneering female pilots who, in today’s more liberated space environment, might actually have flown in space. Subtitled ‘Two pilots and their historic battle for female spaceflight’, it tells the story of Jerrie Cobb (famous for taking the same medical tests as the Mercury astronauts) and the lesser-known Jackie Cochran, a World War II pilot who, in the late 1950s, held more “flying records than any pilot of the twentieth century”.
According to its blurb, the book “presents these fascinating and fearless women in all their glory and grit, using their stories as guides through the shifting social, political and technical landscapes of the time”. As the author herself writes, “All the women in this story are like the screen heroines of the 1930s and 1940s. They are not defined by ‘womanhood’. They are pilots and identified as such”. Elsewhere, as an indication of her take on the two pioneers, she describes them as “two badass women”.
The writing style is a descriptive narrative that immediately engages the reader because of its novel-like format and it’s likely that anyone interested in aviation and early space history – let alone ‘women’s issues’ – will find it a reasonable page-turner. It is important to realise, however, that the narrative is backed up by a mountain of journalistic research, which is reflected in a 40-page chapter-by-chapter bibliography.
The two subjects of the book never stopped fighting for the rights of women to be astronauts – not least by haranguing US President Lyndon Johnson about the matter – and it can only be described as shocking that it was not until 1983 that Sally Ride became America’s first female in space.