The woman on the cover of To Fly Among the Stars is Jerrie Cobb, a pilot, astronaut hopeful, and leading figure in this book.


On the day that this photo was taken, May 27, 1961, Jerrie was attending the First National Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Space. She stood happily in front of a model Mercury capsule, the same tiny ship that had carried Alan Shepard into the heavens just 22 days earlier, and smiled for a photo. Her white gloves and high heels surely made her stand out among the other mostly-male attendees.  


Cobb had no idea at the time, but later that evening, she would be named an official NASA consultant. This was a monumental achievement, and one that she interpreted as a sign that things were moving in the right direction. Soon, she fervently hoped, her next title would be even more impressive. Instead of a NASA consultant, she’d be a NASA astronaut. 


But if you look closely at this image, you can see some clues about what stood in Cobb’s way. Note the little stepladder she stands on. It’s meant for tourists or gawkers, not astronauts. And the gaping hole where the hatch should be. In an actual Mercury capsule, that little doorway was a lifesaving juncture that would be so securely sealed that it would take a crew of experts to pry it open. Here, it lies bizarrely ajar. But most damning of all is what you can spot inside the capsule: a pair silver-suited legs. NASA had jammed a dummy in the capsule to make it look more authentic. Jerrie wouldn’t have wanted to climb into this model capsule, but even if she had, she couldn’t. NASA hadn’t made room for her.


Rebecca Rissman