Alexandria, VA – Review: Fighting for Space: Two Pilots and Their Historic Battle for Female Space Flight
Author: Amy Shira Teitel
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Reviewed by: Ralph Peluso, Literary Editor
Zebra Rating – 5 Stripes
“The United States was not built by those who waited and rested and wished to look behind them. This country was conquered by those who moved forward, and so will space.” John F. Kennedy said these words at Rice University stadium on September 12, 1962. He was talking about the country’s space program. He knew it was a fight.
Amy Shira Teitel, noted Spaceflight historian, understands that within “battleground space,” fights take place on many levels. In her well-researched dual biography, Fighting for Space, she delves into the trials and tribulations trailblazing women faced to establish their roles in aviation. Her nonfiction tells the riveting story of pilots Jackie Cochran and Jerrie Cobb, who each dreamed of making history as the first American woman in space.
Before the space age emerged in the late 1950s, Cochran held more propeller and jet flying records than any twentieth-century pilot, man or woman. Cochran possessed a remarkable pedigree that included leading the Women’s Auxiliary Service Pilots during the Second World War, the first woman to break the sound barrier, and becoming a successful business entrepreneur. She excelled in other areas too. As the only female entrant in the 1937 Bendix race, she added “the women’s cross-country speed record” to her accomplishments.
At the start of her career, Cochran fought to be taken seriously. Men regularly discounted her. She rubbed elbows with America’s elite, including several presidents who called her friend. Ready and qualified to make the leap from atmosphere to orbit, the opportunity was never afforded her.
Jerrie Cobb, also a record-holding pilot, navigated the landmines to train and test with Mercury astronauts. She caught the space flight bug and did not let it go. Although a generation younger than Cochran, she ran into the same instilled bias against women pilots. One NASA administrator who opposed females in the astronaut program said he preferred women “barefoot and pregnant.”
Cobb also faced pushback from an unexpected source. Surprisingly, Cochran opposed females in the space-flight training program. Most likely she enlisted LBJ’s help to block Cobb’s efforts.
Teitel, who has enjoyed history since she was a youngster, is well qualified to write on this subject. Amy was an embedded journalist with the New Horizons mission to Pluto team in 2015. She writes with excitement and depth of knowledge. She authored a previous work on space, Breaking the Chains of Gravity: The Story of Spaceflight Before NASA, 2016.
Amy graduated with a bachelor’s degree with combined honors in the history of science and technology and classics. She went on to earn a Master’s in Science and Technology Studies. She loves punk rock, boxing, bowling, old movies, and believes in the power of fashion. Amy lives in Pasadena, California, with her cat, Pete Conrad.
Amy’s tour de force masterfully written work uses Cochran and Cobb’s experiences to guide the reader through the changing social and political atmosphere that was part of the space race. A good read for all- Zebra stripes – 5.