“Where’s HER Movie” posts will highlight interesting and accomplished women from a variety of professional backgrounds who deserve to have movies written about them as much as all the male scientists, authors, performers, and geniuses have had written about them across the over 100 years of film. This is our attempt to help write these women back into mainstream history. — Rosanne
As one of the most prominent racing pilots of her generation Jackie Cochran pioneered women’s aviation. The head of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) during WWII she oversaw over 1000 civilian female pilots who ferried planes from factories to port cities and later became the first woman to break the sound barrier on 18 May 1953. She originally learned to fly in order to expand her sales area.
In the 1960s, Cochran was a sponsor of the Mercury 13 program, an early effort to test the ability of women to be astronauts. Thirteen women pilots passed the same preliminary tests as the male astronauts of the Mercury program before the program was cancelled.[N 2] It was never a NASA initiative, though it was spearheaded by two members of the NASA Life Sciences Committee, one of whom, William Randolph Lovelace II, was a close friend of Cochran and her husband. Though Cochran initially supported the program, she was later responsible for delaying further phases of testing, and letters from her to members of the Navy and NASA expressing concern over whether the program was to be run properly and in accordance with NASA goals may have significantly contributed to the eventual cancellation of the program. It is generally accepted that Cochran turned against the program out of concern that she would no longer be the most prominent female aviator.
On 17 and 18 July 1962, Representative Victor Anfuso (D-NY) convened public hearings before a special Subcommittee of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics to determine whether or not the exclusion of women from the astronaut program was discriminatory, during which John Glenn and Scott Carpenter testified against admitting women to the astronaut program. Cochran herself argued against bringing women into the space program, saying that time was of the essence, and moving forward as planned was the only way to beat the Soviets in the Space Race. (None of the women who had passed the tests were military jet test pilots, nor did they have engineering degrees, which were the two basic experiential qualifications for potential astronauts. Women were not allowed to be military jet test pilots at that time. On average, however, they all had more flight experience than the male astronauts.) “NASA required all astronauts to be graduates of military jet test piloting programs and have engineering degrees. In 1962, no women could meet these requirements.” This ended the Mercury 13 program. However, John Glenn and Scott Carpenter, who were part of the Mercury 7, also did not have engineering degrees when they were selected. Both of them were granted a degree after their flights for NASA.  
Significantly, the hearings investigated the possibility of gender discrimination a two full years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made that illegal, making these hearings a marker of how ideas about women’s rights permeated political discourse even before they were enshrined in law.