“The Mercury 13: Women and the Dream of Space Flight,” a presentation about the first women to go through astronaut testing and training in the United States in the 1960s, happened in Kresge Hall Tuesday. The presentation featured Wally Funk, the youngest member of the “Mercury 13”, and Martha Ackmann, who wrote the award-winning Mercury 13, a book documenting the story of these women.
After undergoing the same grueling physiological screening tests that the astronauts of the Mercury 7 had to pass, the 13 women who were to be dubbed the “Mercury 13” would never travel into space as NASA astronauts, although Funk is still working towards that goal. These physiological screenings were administered by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II, who developed these tests for the astronauts of the Mercury 7 and was curious about how women would perform on them.
“On the surface this may look like a story just about some women who took some tests. Beyond the physical tests the story of the Mercury 13 reminds us that some women want to live large,” said Ackmann during the lecture.
The program was cosponsored by the Clare Booth Luce Program, SASS, Physics Club, Chemistry Club, Cultural Events Committee, and Office of the Dean of the College. Associate Professor of Chemistry Mary Crawford got the Clare Booth Luce Program involved in bringing Ackmann and Funk to Knox after hearing the story of the women from Associate Professor of Computer Science John Dooley, who went to college with Ackmann.
The Clare Booth Luce Program provides grants to encourage women to go into the fields of physics and computer sciences. After learning of the Mercury 13 story, Crawford assigned Ackmann’s book for one of her classes and got seniors Leigh Abrams, president of the Chemistry Club, and Emily Jackson, president of the Physics Club, involved in bringing the story to Knox.
“In general I thought it was really interesting. I didn’t really know about the Mercury 13, and I enjoyed hearing the story,” said senior SASS member Christy Dechaine, who also helped organize the event, after seeing the presentation.
“I liked it a lot — the politics brought into it and just Wally’s firsthand experience,” Crawford said as well. Funk also enjoyed Knox’s environment.
“What stands out to me [is how] the students show a lot more respect for being in a college situation,” said Funk, after calling the school a “wonderful, wonderful college.”
After telling her own story of determination during the lecture, Funk stressed the importance of Knox students in the audience to follow their dreams.
“You know where you’re going and don’t be afraid of ‘no,’” said Funk, who has never given up on her hope of going into space and is the last of the Mercury 13 to fly for a living.
Funk cites her “Five A’s” (Attitude, Awareness, Anticipate, Appearance, and Acknowledge) in helping her achieve her dreams and wishes to get these across more than anything.
“You students are going to make something great out of your lives,” she said in her lecture.