Pioneer Female Astronaut: Jerrie Cobb Mock (1931-2019)
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Had American society progressed in its recognition of female vocational prowess one generation earlier, this tall, athletic Norman native likely would have been the first woman in space. By age 12, she had flown her father’s private plane. While an OKC Classen High School student, she earned her pilot’s license. As a commercial pilot in the 1950s, she set world speed and altitude records while flying Aero Commander aircraft built by Oklahoma’s Aero Design and Engineering Company.
In 1959, after logging more than 7,000 flying hours, NASA chose her as one of its “Mercury 13” female astronaut candidates for America’s new space program. She was the first woman to pass the grueling physical and mental examinations that the Mercury 7 space program male astronauts—including Gordon Cooper, John Glenn, and Alan Shepherd—passed. After four years of training and preparation, however, the agency decided against utilizing women as astronauts.
That same year, the totalitarian Soviet Union put their first female pilot, Valentina Tereshkova, into space. Oklahoman Cobb was vastly more experienced and competent as a pilot than was Tereshkova. No doubt aware of Mock’s famous 1961 Reader’s Digest magazine testament of her Christian faith, and seeing a photo of Mock kneeling in prayer, Tereshkova famously ridiculed her Christianity.
Evincing the saying that, “When God closes a door, He opens a window,” Cobb turned her Herculean energies and faith toward missionary aviation work in South America. The National Aviation Hall of Fame described Cobb’s feats upon her induction in 2012:
“Typically flying solo in her Aero Commander, she pioneered new air routes across the hazardous Andes Mountains and Amazon rain forests, using self-drawn maps that guided her over uncharted territory larger than the United States. For the next 48 years Jerrie enabled the deliveries of medicine, food, seeds, clothing and other necessities to the primitive inhabitants of isolated regions, creating deep bonds of mutual understanding, admiration and friendship.”
In 1971, President Richard Nixon awarded Jerrie Cobb the Harmon Trophy as the world’s greatest female aviator. In 1981, her missionary aviation service earned her a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
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Oklahomans Vol 2 :
Statehood - 2020s
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