Book Recommendation: Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

My friend and fellow children’s author Tanya Lee Stone has put all of her passion and research skills into a book that is guaranteed to change the lives of young women who dream of great achievements in science and technology. Not only do I recommend the book, but I also recommend that readers in the DC area mark their calendars for Tanya’s speaking events next month.

The book is Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream. It has received numerous rave reviews and endorsements that tell me it will certainly compete for major awards next year. (You read it here first, folks!)

Here’s some of the publisher’s dust jacket copy:

Did you know? Take a journey back to 1961 and discover the 13 women pilots who had the Right Stuff to become America’s first female astronauts. They took all the Mercury 7 tests and performed as well or better than the men, but NASA was not ready to let women into the space program. Even after a Congressional hearing.

Tanya will be speaking at two prestigious venues in Washington DC on March 14:

1) 10AM-12 PM
Talk and signing at Politics & Prose bookstore

2) Family Day
National Air & Space Museum/Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center
Women in Aviation & Space Day

1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Author, Tanya Lee Stone will be speaking to the public

2:30 PM – 5:00 PM
Book Signing Almost Astronauts by author, Tanya Lee Stone

I’m so proud to know Tanya, and I hope this posting prompts many of you to discover her work.

And if you want to thank me for this introduction, please also take the time to discover my contribution to the “Women’s Adventures in Science” middle-grade biography series, Beyond Jupiter: The Story of Planetary Astronomer Heidi Hammel.

Fred Bortz
Children’s Science Books
and
Science Book Reviews

2 thoughts on “Book Recommendation: Almost Astronauts by Tanya Lee Stone

  1. Oh yes! I love reading Tanya’s books to my kids. They find them very entertaining, and I think her books have been such an inspiration and thought-provoking in the lessons she presents in them. Some of her books I recommend are Sandy’s Circus and Elizabeth Leads the Way.

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  2. The story of the women’s activities and thoughts is very well portrayed. My objection as a historian is that everything about the context is slanted to the point of falsification.

    Symbolically, look on the copyright page, where the author admits that the term used on the cover, ‘Mercury 13’, and throughout the book, is bogus — a ‘misnomer’, she calls it, not the word I’d use in a book aimed at children. who would understand better if the author used an age-appropriate vocabulary and just said ‘fake’. Other designations, such as ‘Lovelace-13’, have been offered, and are much more accurate in their denotations and connotations.

    The greatest historical atrocity in the book, as I see it, is the portrayal of all opponents of setting aside existing standards to let one or more of these women fly into space as bigots and racists and egomaniacs (the author’s savaging of feminist hero Jackie Cochran based on some imagined mind-reading ability was particularly vicious). LBJ in particular is singled out for vitriol that has no factual basis — he was opposed to changing standards to cater to any particular group, because he was concerned of where it would lead as additional demographic subsets began demanding equally preferential treatment. What he did about it — sadly but not surprisingly not reported in this book — was have officials find representatives of such groups and encourage assignments and training to raise their vitae to preset levels so there would be no hint of ‘reverse discrimination’. This succeeded as early as 1967 with the selection for astronaut training of Robert Lawrence, an eminently qualified black Air force pilot and scientist. On page 98, she pooh-poohs the 1978 selection of woman and racial minorities as second-rate since “they were all mission specialists” — not pilots. This is incorrect, and easily fact-checked if anyone had bothered: one of them, Fred Gregory, became the first black pilot-astronaut, mission commander, and ultimately top NASA HQ official, none of this mentioned in the book.

    Equally horrifying is the treatment of the Soviet woman-in-space mission of Valentina Tereshkova on pp. 84-5. The idea that an American decision to fly a woman symbolically would have been a ‘first’ is a delusion since the USSR had decided as a matter of policy to be first with its women-cosmonaut, from a special group selected separately without any of the credentials of the male team, and consequently would have launched before any American scheduled woman’s flight. The symbolism of Tereshkova’s flight was hollow, as the subsequent lamentable chronology of Russian women in space (what few there were) as propaganda gimmicks shows — despite the wide success of the gimmicks in convincing much of the world (particularly Jane Hart) of a ‘false reality’ of advantages women in the USSR were supposed to have had (but never did, and still don’t). Comparing the subsequent achievements of American women in space to the actual — not politically idealized — history of Russian women (ten times fewer) demonstrates which approach was more advantageous to attainment of a more gender-neutral situation, but isn’t the kind of bashing the book chose.

    And the idea that the United States led the world — aside from a handful of fool-the-gullible propaganda stunts from Moscow — in this genuine, solidly-based shift in age-old cultural patterns doesn’t seem to be the message the book wants to instill. Resentment and gender-bigotry drip from nearly every page. For some purposes, this approach may be understandable, and eminently useful, but it does not serve the purpose of true history.

    See context at www dot thespacereview dot com slash article/869/1 and
    www dot jamesoberg dot com slash 2007womenspacecraftcommanders_sta dot html

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