Jerrie Cobb

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Jerrie Cobb
JerrieCobb MercuryCapsule.jpg
Jerrie Cobb with a Mercury spacecraft
Born(1931-03-05)March 5, 1931
DiedMarch 18, 2019(2019-03-18) (aged 88)
EducationOklahoma City Classen High School
Known forPart of the "Mercury 13"
Aviation career
First flight1943

Geraldyn M. Cobb (March 5, 1931 – March 18, 2019) was an American aviator. She was also part of the "Mercury 13", a group of women selected to undergo physiological screening tests at the same time as the original Mercury Seven astronauts. She was the first to compete each of the tests.[1]

Early life[edit]

Born on March 5, 1931, in Norman, Oklahoma,[2] Cobb was the daughter of Lt. Col. William H. Cobb and Helena Butler Stone Cobb. From birth, Cobb was on the move as is the case for many children of military families. Weeks after being born Cobb's family moved to Washington, D.C., where her grandfather, Ulysses Stevens Stone, was serving in the United States House of Representatives. After Ulysses Stone lost a reelection bid, the family moved back to Oklahoma where he and Cobb's father worked as automobile salesmen. Once the United States became involved in World War II Cobb's family moved once again, this time to Wichita Falls, Texas where Cobb's father joined his active U.S. National Guard unit. The family would move again to Denver, Colorado before finally returning to Oklahoma after World War II where Cobb spent the majority of her childhood.[3]

As a child growing up in Oklahoma, Cobb took to aviation at an early age, with her pilot father's encouragement. Cobb first flew in an aircraft at age twelve, in her father's open cockpit 1936 Waco biplane.[4] At 16, she was barnstorming around the Great Plains in a Piper J-3 Cub, dropping leaflets over little towns announcing the arrival of circuses. Sleeping under the Cub's wing at night, she helped scrape together money for fuel to practice her flying by giving rides. By the age of 17, while a student at Oklahoma City Classen High School, Cobb had earned her private pilot's license. She received her commercial pilots license a year later.[2] In 1948, Cobb attended Oklahoma College for Women for a year.[5]

Record-setting career[edit]

By age 19, Cobb was teaching men to fly. At 21, she was delivering military fighters and four-engine bombers to foreign Air Forces worldwide.[6]

Facing sex discrimination and the return of many qualified male pilots after World War II, she had to take on less sought after jobs, such as patrolling pipelines and crop dusting. She went on to earn her Multi-Engine, Instrument, Flight Instructor, and Ground Instructor ratings as well as her Airline Transport license.

Cobb went on to set new world records for speed, distance, and absolute altitude while still in her twenties. When she became the first woman to fly in the Paris Air Show, the world's largest air exposition, her fellow airmen named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. Life Magazine named her one of the nine women of the "100 most important young people in the United States".[6][7]

To save the money to buy a surplus World War II Fairchild PT-23, and a chance to be self-employed, Cobb played women's softball on a semi-professional team, the Oklahoma City Queens.[2]

By 1959 (age 28), Cobb was a pilot and manager for Aero Design and Engineering Company, which also made the Aero Commander aircraft she used in her record making feats, and was one of the few women executives in aviation. By 1960, she had 7,000 hours of flying time and held 3 world aviation records: the 1959 world record for nonstop long-distance flight, the 1959 world light-plane speed record, and a 1960 world altitude record for lightweight aircraft of 37,010 feet (11,280 m; 11.28 km).[8]

In November 1960, following multiple crashes of the Lockheed L-188 Electra, American Airlines marketing department identified that the aircraft's reputation was particularly poor among women, and this was significantly affecting passenger bookings. In an attempt to win over passengers American Airlines, having no female pilots, invited her to fly the aircraft on a highly publicized four-hour test, despite her having never flown a turboprop previously.[9][10]

In May 1961, NASA Administrator James Webb appointed Cobb as a consultant to the NASA space program.[6]

Jerrie Cobb operating the Multi-Axis Space Test Inertia Facility (MASTIF) located at the Lewis Research Center in Ohio. This test simulated bringing a spinning spacecraft under control and was one of many that the women of the Mercury 13 went through in order to qualify for space flight.[11]

Medical testing[edit]

Although Cobb successfully completed all three stages of physical and psychological evaluation that were used in choosing the first seven Mercury astronauts, this was not an official NASA program, and she was unable to rally support in Congress for adding women to the astronaut program based solely on their gender. At the time, Cobb had flown 64 types of propeller aircraft, but had made only one flight, in the back seat, of a jet fighter. She had also set world records for speed, distance, and absolute altitude.[6]

"Although she never flew in space, Cobb, along with twenty-four other women, underwent physical tests similar to those taken by the Mercury astronauts with the belief that she might become an astronaut trainee. All the women who participated in the program, known as First Lady Astronaut Trainees, were skilled pilots. Dr. Randy Lovelace, a NASA scientist who had conducted the official Mercury program physicals, administered the tests at his private clinic without official NASA sanction. Cobb passed all the training exercises, ranking in the top 2% of all astronaut candidates of both genders."[12]

In 1962, Cobb was called to testify before a Congressional hearing, the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts, about women astronauts.[13] Astronaut John Glenn stated at the hearing "men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes", and "the fact that women are not in this field is a fact of our social order".[14] Only a few months later, the Soviet Union would send the first woman into space,[4] Valentina Tereshkova. Soon afterward, Tereshkova ridiculed Cobb for her religious beliefs but sympathized with the sexism she encountered:

“They (American leaders) shout at every turn about their democracy and at the same time they announce they will not let a woman into space. This is open inequality.”[15]

Cobb lobbied, along with other Mercury 13 participants, including Jane Briggs Hart, to be allowed to train alongside the men. However, at the time NASA requirements for entry into the astronaut program were that a pilot be a military test pilot, experienced at high speed military test flying, and have an engineering background enabling the pilot to take over controls in the event it became necessary. Since all military test pilots were men at the time, this had the effect of automatically excluding women. An exception was not made for Cobb.[16] Liz Carpenter, who was the Executive Assistant to Vice President Lyndon Johnson, drafted a letter to NASA administrator James E. Webb questioning these requirements, but Johnson did not send the letter, instead writing across it: "Let's stop this now!"[17][8][18]

Later life and death[edit]

Cobb then began over 30 years of missionary work in South America, performing humanitarian flying (e.g., transporting supplies to indigenous tribes), as well as surveying new air routes to remote areas. Cobb "pioneered new air routes across the hazardous Andes Mountains and Amazon rain forests, using self-drawn maps that guided her over uncharted territory larger than the United States".[19] It was because of Cobb that many once isolated South American inhabitants started receiving much needed supplies and medicines. The new routes she discovered helped better the lives of countless individuals. Cobb has been honored by the Brazilian, Colombian, Ecuadorian, French, and Peruvian governments.[6][20] In 1981, she was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work.[2]

In 1999, the National Organization for Women conducted an unsuccessful campaign to send Cobb to space to investigate the effects of aging, as John Glenn had been.[2] John Glenn's main purpose on his space flight was to observe the effects of a micro-gravity environment on the body of an aged individual. Specifically, NASA wanted to observe whether the effects of weightlessness had positive consequences on the balance, metabolism, blood flow, and other bodily functions of an elderly person.[21] Cobb believed that it was necessary to also send an aged woman on a space flight in order to determine whether the same effects witnessed on men would be witnessed on women. At 67, Cobb who had been deprived of a space flight years before, and who had passed the same tests as John Glenn, believed herself to be a great candidate for this scientific observation. Cobb petitioned NASA for the chance to participate in a space flight on behalf of research on elderly women but was denied. NASA stated "it had no plans to involve additional senior citizens in upcoming launches".[22] Many aviators and astronauts of the time believed this was a failed chance for NASA to right a wrong they had made years before. Cobb never reached her ultimate goal of space flight, but paved the way for women after her who did.[citation needed]

Cobb received numerous aviation honors, including the Harmon Trophy and the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale's Gold Wings Award.[6]

On March 18, 2019, thirteen days after her 88th birthday, Cobb died at her home in Florida.[23][24]

In popular culture[edit]

The character of Molly Cobb in the TV series For All Mankind is based on her, and episode four of the first season, entitled "Prime Crew", is dedicated to her memory.[25]



  1. ^ Bartels 2019-04-19T11:00:02Z, Meghan. "Jerrie Cobb, Record-Breaking Pilot and Advocate for Female Spaceflight, Has Died". Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e Hargrave, The Pioneers Monash University, Australia Accessed March 12, 2010
  3. ^ Ackmann, Martha (July 1, 2004). The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight. Random House Trade Paperbacks. ISBN 9780375758935.
  4. ^ a b Jerrie Cobb "Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot" (Autobiography) Pilot, Accessed March 12, 2010
  5. ^ "Cobb, Jerrie 2003". Hall of Fame Honorees. University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma. Retrieved April 2, 2015.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Internet Encyclopedia of Science, Aviation Pioneers Accessed March 12, 2010
  7. ^ John Shepler "Astronaut Jerrie Cobb, The Mercury 13 Were NASA's First Women Astronauts" Accessed March 12, 2010
  8. ^ a b Gant, Kelli. "Women in Aviation". The Ninety-Nines Inc. Retrieved March 12, 2010.
  9. ^ Davis, Lou (February 1961). "Electra On Public Trial". Flying Magazine. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  10. ^ Serling, Robert (2017) [1962]. The Electra Story. Chapter 8 Comeback: Endeavour Media. ISBN 9780553288452.CS1 maint: location (link)
  11. ^ Dunn, Marcia (April 18, 2019). "America's 1st Female Astronaut Candidate, Jerrie Cobb, dies". AP News.
  12. ^ Hahn, Michael (May 13, 2010). "Jerrie Cobb Poses beside Mercury Capsule". Great Images In NASA (GRIN). Archived from the original on December 24, 2011. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  13. ^ Qualifications for Astronauts: Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on the Selection of Astronauts Archived December 11, 2015, at the Wayback Machine, U.S. House of Representatives, 87th Cong. (1962)
  14. ^ "Why Did the Mercury 13 Astronauts Never Fly in Space?". Popular Science.
  15. ^ "Girl Cosmonaut Ridicules Praying of U.S. Woman Pilot". The Racine Journal-Times. July 7, 1963. p. 5. Retrieved August 18, 2014 – via open access
  16. ^ Tanya Lee Stone. "Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream". Candlewick Press Somerville, MA, 2009 p. 64.
  17. ^ "The Space Review: You've come a long way, baby!".
  18. ^ Stephanie Nolen. "Promised the Moon: The untold story of the first women in the space race". Penguin Books Canada, Toronto, 2002. p. 300.
  19. ^ a b c "Cobb, Geraldyn "Jerrie" M." The National Aviation Hall of Fame.
  20. ^ "Mercury 13".
  21. ^ Wittry, Jan (April 3, 2015). "John Glenn Returns to Space". NASA. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  22. ^ Ackmann, Martha (November 1998). "Right Stuff, Wrong Time: Mercury 13 Women Wait". The Christian Science Monitor – via ProQuest.
  23. ^ Berger, Eric (April 18, 2019). "Jerrie Cobb, one of the most gifted female pilots in history, has died". Ars Technica. Retrieved April 19, 2019.
  24. ^ Seelye, Katharine Q. (April 19, 2019). "Geraldyn M. Cobb, Who Found a Glass Ceiling in Space, Dies at 88". New York Times. Retrieved April 21, 2019.
  25. ^ Miller, Liz Shannon (November 8, 2019). "For All Mankind Recap: The Glass Ceiling". Vulture. Retrieved January 19, 2020.
  26. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  27. ^ Jerrie Cobb jerrie_cobb_facts.html Jerrie Cobb, Facts(Autobiography) Accessed March 13, 2010
  28. ^ Krebs, Albin (September 21, 1973). "5 Top Pilots Cited". New York Times. Retrieved March 13, 2010.
  29. ^ " - Diese Website steht zum Verkauf! - Informationen zum Thema Jerrie Cobb NASA space pilot woman pilot female pilot Mercury 13 Amazon".
  30. ^ "Jerrie Cobb". Women in Aviation International. Archived from the original on January 2, 2010. Retrieved March 3, 2010.
  31. ^ Commendation-Cobb University of Wisconsin–Oshkosh Accessed March 12, 2010


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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