NASA to a woman yearning to become an astronaut has surfaced online this week, reminding everyone how much times have changed.
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“Your offer to go on a space mission is commendable and we are very grateful,” wrote NASA public information director O.B. Lloyd Jr. in the four-sentence letter, which was reposted on Reddit July 8. “This is to advise that we have no existing program concerning women astronauts nor do we contemplate any such plan.”
The blunt rejection was sent to a University of Connecticut mailing address, written to a woman identified only as “Miss Kelly.”
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Though NASA spokesperson Bob Jacobs stated that it was difficult to confirm the letter’s authenticity, he said that Lloyd was indeed director of public services from 1961 to 1979. Also, Jacobs told Yahoo! Shine in an email, “Our initial research shows the wording in the response is consistent with the agency’s public stance on female astronauts in 1962.”
It also seemed similar to one sent that same year from NASA to Hillary Clinton, who recently revealed that she’d wanted to be an astronaut when she was young.
“So when I was about 13, I wrote to NASA and asked what I needed to do to try to be an astronaut,” she said during her remarks at a 2012 event celebrating Amelia Earhart. “And of course, there weren’t any women astronauts, and NASA wrote me back and said there would not be any women astronauts. And I was just crestfallen.”
Such letters, Jacobs noted, were “a reflection of a time five decades ago when the requirements for astronauts were not easily met by women. The agency’s stance evolved with the times, however. Original Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton wrote in 1970 to future NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins, ‘The exact time when we would seriously consider women is indefinite, but I am sure it is inevitable.’”
Slayton was right, of course, but it took some time. Though a woman would be sent into space just 16 months after the letter to Miss Kelly—Valentina Tereshkova, of Russia—it would be another 21 years until the United States got with the program and sent the Sally Ride, now deceased, on her 1983 space mission with the Challenger STS-7.
In June of this year, NASA named a new group of eight astronauts, half of which were women—the highest percentage ever selected for a class. “So times have certainly changed over the past 51 years,” Jacobs said.
Still, the letter on Reddit, originally posted several months ago by user “bombino3” with the title "My friend's mom applied to be an astronaut," and reposted this week, had generated more than 1,200 comments by Tuesday afternoon. And many of them were decidedly snarky. “NO SMELLY GIRLS ALLOWED IN OUR SPACE TREEHOUSE” was the most popular quip, with others like “They distract the male astronauts with those skimpy, revealing space suits” and “Wow, NASA basically told her to get back in the kitchen” not far behind.
Not all NASA letters have been so harsh, of course. One from 1966 that’s on file at the agency, Jacobs told the Space Review recently, was quite encouraging to a young Michigan girl who expressed interest in becoming a veterinarian in space, and made no mention of gender.
“Your desire to be an astrovet is most interesting,” wrote public affairs official William O’Donnell. “However, at this time there is no requirement for such a specialty in the space program. We are enclosing the latest list of prerequisites for astronaut candidates in the hope that they will give you some guidance as to your selection of subjects to take up in school.” Nice, right?
Just last month, NASA sent another inspiring letter to a child (albeit a boy), garnering lots of positive attention on Reddit.
“I heard that you are sending two people into Mars and I would like to come, but I’m seven so I can’t,” 7-year-old Dexter Walters first wrote to NASA. “I would like to come in the future. What do I need to do to become an astronaut?”
The response, from the agency’s office of communications, told Walters, “NASA wants you to know that your thoughts and ideas to further space exploration are important, and we hope that you will continue to learn all you can about NASA's space programs, missions, and accomplishments.”
It went on to suggest useful websites with info on becoming an astronaut, and added, “Just think—in a few years, you could be one of the pioneers that may help lead the world's activities for better understanding of our earth and for exploring space.” A far cry, happily, from the way NASA seems to have handled Miss Kelly all those years ago.
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