Thursday, October 29, 2009

Almost Astronauts

On this day in 1998, John Glenn became the oldest person ever to travel in space: he was 77 years old at the time.  That moment in history inspired today's review.

Stone, Tanya Lee (2009). Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. (Gr. 5-7+).

The first seven American astronauts, dubbed the Mercury 7 in 1958, were all men.  The first woman to enter space, Sally Ride, launched on a space shuttle in 1983.  The twenty-five years in between those two dates were filled with women who tried to be astronauts but were nearly always turned down.

Thirteen women in 1960 and 1961 took a series of grueling tests--the same or harder tests that male astronauts took--to see if women would be strong enough and brave enough to fly into outer space.  Each of the thirteen women, all of whom had broken gender barriers to be pilots, passed the tests they were given with flying colors.  NASA and the United States government, however, stepped in just before the majority of the women were allowed to take the final test, and those thirteen women were permanently shut out of American space travel programs.

This book is well-written with a quick, compelling narrative that readers will tear through.  Even more importantly, it's a thorough, hard-hitting look both at what it means to be an astronaut and at women's struggles for equality and representation in the greatest adventure of modern times.

Almost Astronauts won a 2009 Boston Globe - Horn Book honor award for non-fiction.  The video below is the author's acceptance speech at that awards ceremony.

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