I can be patient no longer
An aspiring astronaut pleads with JFK to be sent into space
Born in Oklahoma in 1931 to Lt. Col. William H. Cobb and Helena Butler Stone Cobb, Geraldyn ‘Jerrie’ Cobb was twelve years old when she first took the controls of her father’s 1936 Waco aircraft. From that day, she never looked down. At sixteen, she had a private pilot’s licence; at eighteen, she was a certified ground instructor; soon she was setting various world aviation records for speed, distance and altitude. In 1960, she was the first of thirteen women (the ‘Mercury 13’) to undergo intensive training that would determine whether a woman could become an astronaut; however, despite passing every test, she remained grounded and soon the programme was cancelled. In 1963, having brought the issue before Congress to no avail, Cobb wrote this letter to President John F. Kennedy, and pleaded to be sent into space immediately. Three months after this letter was written, cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova became the first woman in space. It would be another twenty years until an American woman, Sally Ride, left Earth’s orbit.
March 13, 1963
The White House
Washington, D. C.
Dear Mr. President:
It is difficult to write this letter knowing it will be read by your secretaries and assistants and the chances are slim that it will get through to you. I feel compelled to do so anyway, in the faith that the matter will in some way be brought to your attention.
Some of your staff are acquainted with my efforts to get the United States to put the first woman in space. For three years I have been working for this (including passing the three phases of astronaut testing). I have discussed this matter with Vice President Johnson and Dr. Welsh of your Space Council as well as many of our country's top space scientists. The reaction has been one of general acceptance: "why don't we do it; now, before Russia?"; "the scientific reasons more than justify the cost"; "what are we waiting for?" are typical of the response. That is, with all except the top echelon of NASA. James Webb appointed me a consultant to NASA over two years ago but never used my services.
I have not wanted to bother you with this matter but I can be patient no longer. It is a fact that the American people want the United States to put the first woman in space. While NASA refuses, the Soviet Union openly boasts that they will capture this next important scientific first in space by putting their lady cosmonaut up this year. We could have accomplished this scientific feat last year, and even now, could still beat the U.S.S.R. if you would make the decision. It need not even be a long orbital shot, or interfere with the current space programs; on a rush basis a sub-orbital shot would suffice or a X-15 flight to a 50 mile altitude. Any aerospace doctor or scientist will tell you the scientific data obtained from such an experiment would be of lasting benefit.
Enclosed is a file of my correspondence with NASA, a scrapbook and several clippings. I have worked, studied and prayed for this over three years now and could not give up without one last, final plea to the commander-in-chief. Forgive me for taking up your time but I still believe the matter is of utmost importance, worthy of your serious consideration; and may the Lord guide you in your decision.
I have the honor to remain,
Your most obedient servant,
Miss Jerrie Cobb
This letter can also be found in Letters of Note: Space, a collection of correspondence about the universe beyond our planet, containing hopeful thoughts about the future of space travel and awestruck messages penned about the worlds beyond our own.