June 19th, 2008

Jin Shei Cover from sgreer

One of the Thirteen is gone

"Janet Christine Dietrich loved to fly."

Thus is a life encapsulated.

Back in the Sixties, she and twelve other women were picked up by NASA to be trained as astronauts - the first women to achieve this - the "Mercury Thirteen". The battery of tests they were put through was gruelling, and included things that their male counterparts never had to put up with - stuff that was done "in addition to more traditional physical exams", and included electroshocks.

They were never allowed to complete their training, never allowed to fly in space.

But they paved the way to the stars for their sisters.

Janet Christine Dietrich, the woman who loved to fly, was one of the Mercury Thirteen. One of the true pioneers of the space program, willing to put up with hell for the dream of stars.

Rest in peace, Janet - and may there be stars for you to reach for, wherever it is that you've gone.

One of the proudest moments of my writing life was having NASA request permission to post a part of one of my poems on a commemorative poster for the Mercury Thirteen, produced a couple of years ago. I have it framed in my house, and it still makes my heart beat faster when I walk past it and let my eyes light upon it. I never had to put up with the tough physical training, or learn how to fly a plane, or swim against the stream all my life just to be taken seriously as a candidate for spaceflight - but I share something with those women, anyway. I share a dream of stars. And I am proud to have my name linked to theirs.