Two members of a group of women who passed a series of 84 exams required of all astronauts in 1960 spoke last night to a group of students and guests assembled in the Boeing Lecture Hall at the Francois Xavier Bagnoud Building on North Campus.
Jane “Janey” Hart and Bernice “Bea” Steadman engaged the audience of aspiring female astronauts with anecdotes from their careers as aviators, description of the rigorous testing they endured as a part of the Mercury 13 program, and how they felt when they learned that they would never go into space.
The emphasis of the lecture was to inspire and encourage the students to continue their pursuit of an education and career in aerospace engineering.
“I had a dream that one day I would be an airplane pilot,” Hart said. “If you want to do something you have to get out of the fantasy world and start doing something.”
After Mercury 13, Hart became one of the founding members of the National Organization for Women.
“All of you women engineers would have had a hell of a time trying to find a job back then,” she said. “It was like they were trying to segregate space.”
Both women stressed the importance of not giving up.
“When I say you have to have passion to get to where you want, I”m serious,” Steadman said.
Steadman spoke of the different tests the women of Mercury 13 endured, including a four-hour eye exam.
“The doctors were told not to be easy with us and they weren”t,” she said.
Steadman said the purpose of the tests were to determine what parameters of the human body were necessary to send an astronaut into outer space.
The 25 women of Mercury 13 who passed the examinations with outstanding results were notified by telegram that they would never travel to space, Hart said.
“It felt good being able to pass all of the tests and to know that I qualified to go into space,” Hart said. “I was disappointed but still felt very rewarded.”
Both women said they felt proud that they helped to pave the road for women in aerospace engineering.
Amy Fischer, a second-year aerospace engineering graduate student who organized the event, said she asked the women to speak because they serve as role models for female students.
“Because of them we could come here and get engineering degrees,” Fischer said.
Engineering junior Neha Kansal said Hart and Steadman encouraged her to continue with her dreams.
“I wasn”t even going to come, but I have always wanted to be an astronaut and this is definitely what I needed to hear,” Kansal said.
“I think these women are truly amazing and are helping us to fulfill our goals,” she said. “Even if I don”t go up into space, NASA is definitely my goal.”