The Liz Library presents Irene Stuber's Women of Achievement - Women's History Month

Episode #WHM-22 for Day 22
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Compiled and Written by Irene Stuber
 who is solely responsible for its content.

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Not the Sex but the Ability

Lydia Maria Adams DeWitt (b. 02-01-1859) was an American experimental pathologist whose experiments led to the development of tuberculosis treatment. LMD taught at a number of universities including University of Chicago (1912-26).

"I'll be back," vowed the first American woman astronaut pilot to her hometown of Elmira, New York, as her appearance in an April, 1995 triumphant parade before 20,000 of her hometown neighbors was cancelled by NASA officials following a second death threat.

collinseileen2.jpgEvent 02-02-1995 - Wearing a scarf that belonged to Amelia Earhart and carrying the pilot's license of early endurance flight champion Bobbi Trout, Lt. Colonel Eileen Collins, 38, lifted off from Cape Canaveral in the co-pilot's seat as the first woman to pilot an American space craft.
      She also carried items belonging to members of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II and items from the women who applied and passed initial tests in NASA's Mercury program.
      An Air Force test pilot, she was selected for the NASA space program in 1990, the first woman chosen as a space shuttle pilot. Eighteen of NASA's astronauts are women serving in scientific roles.
      Personally invited by Collins (not NASA) to witness the blastoff were some of the women who tried out for the initial Mercury program in the 1950s, who did exceptionally well (better than the men), and then were turned down because - shock! - they were women!
      In June 1963, Valentina Terreshkova, Soviet cosmonaut became the first woman in space. She manually controlled Vostok-6 during parts of the 70.8-hour flight through 48 orbits of earth.
      The first American woman in space was Sally Ride, who used the shuttle robot arm to release and retrieve satellites. The first American woman to perform a spacewalk was Kathryn Sullivan, who practiced techniques for refueling satellites, and Kathryn Thorntorn went outside the shuttle to assist the repair of the Hubble Space telescope.
      The first women to die in space were Judith Resnick, the second American woman in space, and Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian when Challenger exploded shortly after launch at Cape Canaveral, FL, 01-28-1986.

Fast forward to 07-23-1999 - Five seconds into launch, warning alarms almost drowned out the roaring rockets of the space ship Columbia.
      An electrical short had knocked out the primary computers for two of the Columbia's engines. Fortunately, the backup computers kicked in without a hitch.
      But the electrical alarm hid a more serious problem. Fuel cells were leaking during the eight minute flight to orbit. It forced a lower orbit and the flight was close to being forced into a never before performed emergency landing.
      Even though the crowd on the beaches along Florida's coast - this author among them - didn't know what was happening in that small reddish-orange tail of burning fuel that lifted the spacecraft into orbit, there was a singular unease as if they knew something was wrong.
      But the resolve and competence of the 42-year-old Air Force colonel at the controls never flickered. The captain's voice was strong, confident, and resolute in the reports to Houston.
      And the resolution proved once and for all (will popular media and HIStorians please note) that it is not the sexes of the people in any given situation that counts, but the individual's ability to perform.
      And Colonel Eileen Collins, the first woman to captain a spacecraft, performed perfectly.
      She captained without hesitation through the difficulties and she and her four person crew completed the full five day mission that launched NASA's $1.5 billion Chandra X-ray Observatory on a five-year mission to search for black holes and scrutinize galaxies and quasars.
      NASA's first space mission commanded by a woman Air Force Colonel Eileen Collins blasted off from Cape Canaveral in a rare night takeoff (12:26 am) and ended five days later (07-27-99) in a rarer night time landing (11:20 pm).
      On 07-24-99, mission specialist Catherine "Cady" Coleman was in charge of efforts to successfully deploy the Chandra X-ray Observatory and did most of the delicate deployment herself.

      "I'll be back," vowed the first American woman astronaut pilot to her hometown of Elmira, New York, as her appearance in an April, 1995 triumphant parade before 20,000 of her hometown neighbors was cancelled by NASA officials following a second death threat.
      Elmira citizens held the parade anyway and were incensed, as one columnist in the local newspaper said,
"We were robbed - cruelly, callously, thoughtlessly, robbed ... of a chance to celebrate how a little girl who once lived on welfare in Elmira could grow up to lead humankind on one of its greatest adventures.
      "Robbed of the opportunity to show Eileen Collins how proud we are of her and how much she means to us."

      "There's no sound reason why women, if they have the time and ability, shouldn't sit with men on city councils, in state legislatures, or in the House and Senate... Women are essentially practical because they've always had to be. From the dawn of time it's been our job to see that both ends meet. And women are much more realistic than men, particularly when it comes to public questions. Of course, having had the vote for such a short time is a distinct advantage, for we have no inheritance of political buncombe."
            --Hattie W. Caraway.

© 1990-2006 Irene Stuber, Hot Springs National Park, AR 71902. Originally web-published at We are indebted to Irene Stuber for compiling this collection and for granting us permission to make it available again. The text of the documents may be freely copied for nonprofit educational use. Except as otherwise noted, all contents in this collection are © 1998-2009 the liz library.  All rights reserved. This site is hosted and maintained by the liz library.