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Jerrie Cobb poses in front of a full-size mock up of NASA's space shuttle, June 16, 1998.

Jerrie Cobb, Almost the First American to Orbit the Earth

Learning to fly at the age of 12, getting her commercial pilot’s license at the age of 18, teaching men to fly at the age of 19, and delivering military fighter planes and bombers to foreign Air Forces around the globe at the age of 21, Jerrie Cobb seemed destined for the stars.

In 1959, she was the first woman chosen to take part in the same testing regiment as the Mercury Seven Astronauts, NASA Quest reports. Although she “passed all three phases with flying colors,” she wasn’t asked to join the astronaut corps; the American space program didn’t allow women into the astronaut corps until 1978. 

Even though Cobb “had twice as many flight hours to her name as John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the earth,” Cobb was denied another accomplishment just a few years later, Sandi Toksvig reported for The Guardian in 2009. Cobb was appointed as a consultant to the U.S. space program in 1961, but she was denied membership in NASA because she didn’t have military jet test pilot experience; women were not allowed to fly in the military until 1973.

“This was a devastating and unexpected blow as Jerrie was denied the opportunity to be the first woman to fly in space,” the NASA Quest Web site explains. Instead, Russian Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly in space.

Read a full profile of Jerrie Cobb. >>

Dorothy Horstmann and Isabel Morgan, Scientists Who Blazed the Trail to Jonas Salk’s Polio Vaccine

In April 1955, one of the most valuable medical discoveries in history was announced: Dr. Jonas Salk had discovered a vaccine that could prevent children from contracting Polio.

But as David M. Oshinsky pointed out in the Los Angeles Times in 2005, “What is too often lost in this hagiography is the extraordinary role played by other scientists, the ones who blazed the trail that Salk followed to completion. Two of the most prominent were women: Dorothy Horstmann at Yale and Isabel Morgan at Johns Hopkins University.”

In 1942, Dorothy Horstmann arrived a Yale to pursue graduate studies in the Yale polio unit. There she discovered that the poliovirus travels briefly in the bloodstream and then enters the central nervous system. “Horstmann had determined the time (early in the infection) and the place (the bloodstream) for the battle against polio to be waged,” Oshinsky wrote for Yale Medicine in 2005. Her “stunning breakthrough,” Oshinsky declares, “made polio vaccines possible.”

Read a full profile of Dorothy Horstmann. >>

Where Horstmann left off, Isabel Morgan picked up. At Johns Hopkins University in the 1940s, Morgan pursued polio vaccination experiments on monkeys. PBS’ American Experience explains that at the time, most researchers believed that only a live virus could be used as a vaccine; Morgan didn’t agree. “After five years of work, her team became the first to successfully inoculate monkeys with a killed-virus vaccine,” American Experience reports.

In 1949, Morgan chose to leave her profession, marry and become a homemaker. “Had she remained, it’s quite possible she would have beaten Jonas Salk to the killed-virus polio vaccine,” Oshinsky wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

Read a full profile of Isabel Morgan. >>

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