March 5, 1931
Jerrie Cobb had a passion for flying. She learned to fly at 15, obtained her Commercial Pilot’s license at 18, and by 21 was delivering U.S bombers and jets to foreign bases during World War II. She set several world altitude and speed records and became the first woman to fly in the world’s largest air exposition. She won many awards, including the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement and Pilot of the Year.
As one of the country’s top pilots in 1959, she was selected to undergo the same physiological testing passed by the very first NASA astronauts. After passing the tests exceptionally, NASA made her a consultant and asked her to recruit more female pilots to be trained for space. Twelve other women also passed the tests, and NASA stated that it would prepare to send the first female astronauts to space. However, there was a loophole: NASA mandated that all astronauts must have had experience as a military fighter jet pilot. Women were not allowed in the military, and thus would never be eligible. Cobb fought NASA and the U.S government to change this. She was not content with the 1950s American social structures that excluded women from pursuing professional careers and research. Jerrie Cobb fought valiantly for her cause, but eventually retired from NASA.
After her retirement, she used her passion for flight to do humanitarian work in South America, flying food and medical supplies to indigenous tribes. Jerrie Cobb set the stage for women’s space flight in America, paving the way for astronauts like Sally Ride and Eileen Collins. She was instrumental in challenging gender boundaries that kept women grounded for so long.