Advances in Physiology Education

A forgotten moment in physiology: the Lovelace Woman in Space Program (1960–1962)

Kathy L. Ryan, Jack A. Loeppky, Donald E. Kilgore Jr.


In 1959, Brigadier General Donald Flickinger and Dr. W. Randolph Lovelace II suggested that it would be more practical from an engineering standpoint to send women rather than men into space due to their lower body weights and oxygen requirements. When the Air Force decided not to pursue this project, Dr. Lovelace assumed leadership of the Woman in Space Program and began medical and physiological testing of a series of accomplished women aviators at the Lovelace Medical Clinic in Albuquerque, NM, in 1960. The tests that these women underwent were identical to those used to test the original Mercury astronauts, with the addition of gynecological examinations. Thirteen of the nineteen women tested passed these strenuous physiological exams (for comparison, 18 of 32 men tested passed); a subset of these pilots was further tested on a series of psychological exams that were similar to or, in some instances, more demanding than those given to male Mercury candidates. Despite these promising results, further testing was halted, and the Woman in Space Program was disbanded in 1962. Although the Woman in Space Program received a great deal of publicity at the time, the story of these women was somewhat lost until they were reunited at the 1999 launch of the shuttle Columbia, commanded by Colonel Eileen Collins.

  • gender differences
  • history of physiology
  • space physiology
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