NASA's first female astronaut candidate, pilot Jerrie Cobb, has died. Cobb died in Florida at age 88 last month. News of her death came Thursday from journalist Miles O'Brien, serving as a family spokesman. Cobb served for decades as a humanitarian aid pilot in the Amazon jungle. She emerged in 1998 to make another pitch for space, as NASA prepared to launch John Glenn on shuttle Discovery at age 77. Cobb argued unsuccessfully that the research should include an older woman.
“We seek, only, a place in our nation’s space future without discrimination,” she told a special House subcommittee on the selection of astronauts.
Instead of making her an astronaut, NASA tapped her as a consultant to talk up the space program. She was dismissed one week after commenting: “I’m the most unconsulted consultant in any government agency.”
She wrote in her 1997 autobiography “Jerrie Cobb, Solo Pilot,” “My country, my culture, was not ready to allow a woman to fly in space.”
In 1961, Cobb became the first woman to pass astronaut testing. Altogether, 13 women passed the arduous physical testing and became known as the Mercury 13. But NASA already had its Mercury 7 astronauts, all test pilots and men. None of the Mercury 13 ever reached space.
In her autobiography, Cobb described how she danced on the wings of her plane in the Amazon moonlight, “Yes, I wish I were on the moon with my fellow pilots, exploring another celestial body. How I would love to see our beautiful blue planet Earth floating in the blackness of space. And see the stars and galaxies in their true brilliance, without the filter of our atmosphere. But I’m happy flying here in Amazonas, serving my brethren. ‘Contenta, Senor, contenta.’ (I am happy, Lord, happy),” she wrote.