Learn about Astronaut Jerrie Cobb

Jerrie Cobb Poses beside Mercury Capsule
Jerrie Cobb Poses beside Mercury Capsule. NASA

Jerrie Cobb: A Love Affair With the Sky

Geraldyn M. "Jerrie" Cobb was one of the first female astronauts recruited by NASA. Although she never flew a mission to space, she made many contributions to space history. Ms. Cobb was born on March 5, 1931 and began flying at the age of 12 in the backseat of a 1936 Waco open-cockpit biplane flown by her father, Col. Cobb. As an adult, she became one of the "Mercury 13" female astronauts.

 

After high school, Ms. Cobb spent a year in college at Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha and made her living by crop dusting and teaching navigation. In the early 1950s, with so many male pilots who had returned from the war, it was nearly impossible for her to land a job as a pilot. By the age of 21, Jerry was delivering four-engine military bombers and fighters around the world, and on her way to becoming one of the world's top pilots.

Cobb set several world altitude and speed records in Aero Commander airplanes built by Oklahoma's Aero Design and Engineering Company. When she became the first woman to fly in the world's largest air exposition, the Salon Aeronautique Internacional in Paris, her fellow airmen named her Pilot of the Year and awarded her the Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement. Life Magazine named her one of the nine women of the "100 most important young people in the United States." She was also honored by the government of France.

History in the Making?

As America began selecting the first astronauts in 1959, Jerrie was picked to be the first woman to undergo the same physical and psychological fitness testing regimen as the Mercury Astronaut Selection Tests. After passing the tests with flying colors, Jerrie was asked to recruit 25 other qualified women pilots for the newly formed NASA.

Twelve passed the first series of tests.

After promising her an early space flight, NASA appointed her the agency's consultant for the future use of women as astronauts. However, NASA's requirement that astronauts have military jet test pilot experience eliminated all women since women were not allowed to fly in the military. They kept her grounded for three years and was staggered when John Glenn testified before Congress that "men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes," and women are not astronauts because of our social order. 

A year later, Russia sent the first woman to fly in space, Valentina Tereshkova, a factory worker. The American space program did not open the ranks of its astronaut corps to women until 1978.

Moving Beyond NASA

Setting her disappointment aside, Cobb resigned from her position with the space agency and became a private pilot in the Amazon jungle. For many years she has found joy and delight in flying over the enormous uncharted jungle, bringing hope, seeds, and help to the people of the region.

Jerrie has received a number of awards:

  • Amelia Earhart Gold Medal of Achievement
  • Named Woman of the Year in Aviation
  • Amelia Earhart Memorial Award
  • Named Pilot of the Year by the National Pilots Association
  • Fourth American to be awarded Gold Wings of the Federacion Aeronautique International, Paris, France
  • Named Captain of Achievement by International Academy of Achievement
  • Served 5 years as a Consultant to the Federal Aviation Administration
  • Selected by the Mercury Astronaut Selection Team to be the first, and only, woman to undergo and successfully pass all 3 phases of Mercury astronaut tests (1960)
  • Appointed consultant to NASA
  • Honored by the government of Ecuador for pioneering new air routes over the Andes Mountain and Andes jungle
  • Awarded the Harmon International Trophy for "The Worlds Best Woman Pilot" by President Nixon at a White House ceremony
  • Inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame as "the Most Outstanding Aviatrix in the US
  • Received Pioneer Woman Award for her "courageous frontier spirit" flying all over the Amazon jungle serving primitive Indian tribes
  • Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

After Senator Glenn returned to space, Ms. Cobb hoped to fulfill her lifelong dream of flying in space. As she put it, "I'd give my life to fly in space. I would have then, and I will now."

Unfortunately, she never did, but she did set many milestones for later astronauts to meet.

Edited by Carolyn Collins Petersen

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Greene, Nick. "Learn about Astronaut Jerrie Cobb." ThoughtCo, Mar. 2, 2017, thoughtco.com/errie-cobb-3072207. Greene, Nick. (2017, March 2). Learn about Astronaut Jerrie Cobb. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/errie-cobb-3072207 Greene, Nick. "Learn about Astronaut Jerrie Cobb." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/errie-cobb-3072207 (accessed December 14, 2017).