Tailored from The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Ladies Astronauts by Loren Grush. Copyright © 2023 by Loren Grush. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Above the Chisos Mountains sprawling throughout Huge Bend Nationwide Park in West Texas, Kathy [Sullivan, PhD, third woman to fly in space and future head of the NOAA] sat in the again seat of NASA’s WB-57F reconnaissance plane because it climbed greater into the sky. The pilot, Jim Korkowski, stored his eye on the jet’s altimeter as they ascended. They’d simply handed sixty thousand toes, and they weren’t executed rising. It was a dizzyingly excessive altitude, however the airplane was made to deal with such extremes.
Inside the cockpit, each Kathy and Jim have been ready. They have been absolutely outfitted in the air power’s high-altitude stress fits. To the untrained observer, the gear regarded nearly like precise house fits. Every ensemble consisted of a cumbersome darkish onesie, with thick gloves and a thick helmet. The mix was designed to use stress to the physique as the high-altitude air thinned away and made it nearly inconceivable for the human physique to operate.
The duo ultimately reached their goal peak: 63,300 toes. At that altitude, their stress fits have been a matter of life and demise. The encircling air stress was so low that their blood might begin to boil if their our bodies have been left unprotected. However with the fits on, it was an uneventful analysis expedition. Kathy took photos with a specialised infrared digital camera that might produce colour photographs, and she additionally scanned the distant terrain in varied wavelengths of sunshine.
They spent simply an hour and a half over Huge Bend, and the flight lasted simply 4 hours in complete. Whereas it could have appeared a fast and simple flight, Kathy made historical past when she reached that remaining altitude above West Texas on July 1, 1979. In that second, she flew greater than any girl ever had, setting an unofficial world aviation document.
The project to coach with the WB-57 had scared her at first, however Kathy wound up loving these high-flying planes. “That was very enjoyable, aside from this little little bit of obscure concern that, ‘Hope this doesn’t imply I’m falling off the face of the Earth,’” Kathy stated. The project took her on flights up north to Alaska and down south to Peru. As she’d hoped, she obtained full qualification to put on the air power’s stress fits, turning into the first girl to take action. Quickly, donning a full-body go well with designed to maintain her alive turned second nature to her.
NASA officers had additionally sought her out to check a brand new piece of kit they have been growing for future Shuttle astronauts, one that will let folks relieve themselves whereas in house. Throughout the Apollo and Gemini eras, NASA developed a comparatively complicated equipment for astronauts to pee in their flight fits. It was, in essence, a versatile rubber cuff that match round the penis, which then hooked up to a group bag. The condom-like cuffs got here in “small,” “medium,” and “giant” (although Michael Collins claimed the astronauts gave them their very own phrases: “further giant,” “immense,” and “unbelievable”). It was definitely not a foolproof system. Urine usually escaped from beneath the sheath.
Cuffs definitely weren’t going to work as soon as ladies entered the astronaut corps. Whereas the Area Shuttle had a elaborate new bathroom for each males and ladies to make use of, the astronauts nonetheless wanted some outlet for after they have been strapped to their seats for hours, awaiting launch or reentry. And if one in every of the ladies was to do a spacewalk, she’d want some sort of gadget throughout these hours afloat. So, NASA engineers created the Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk (DACT). In its most elementary kind it was . . . a diaper. It was a simple repair in case astronauts wanted to urinate whereas out of attain of the bathroom. It was designed to soak up fecal matter, too, although the ladies most likely opted to attend till they reached orbit for that.
Kathy was the greatest particular person to try it out. Usually throughout her high-altitude flights, she’d be trapped in her stress go well with for hours on finish, creating the good testing situations to research the DACT’s sturdiness. It labored like a attraction. And though the first male Shuttle fliers caught to the cuffs, ultimately the DACT turned normal tools for everybody.
After accumulating a whole bunch of hours in these stress fits, Kathy hoped to leverage her expertise right into a flight project, one which may let her take a stroll exterior the Area Shuttle sooner or later. As luck would have it, she bumped into Bruce McCandless II in the JSC health club one afternoon. He was the man to know when it got here to spacewalks. NASA officers had put him in cost of growing all the spacewalk procedures and protocols, and at occasions he appeared to dwell in the NASA swimming pools. Plus, he was all the time conscripting one in every of Kathy’s classmates to do simulated runs with him in the tanks. Kathy needed to be subsequent. Projecting as a lot confidence as she might, she requested him to think about her for his subsequent coaching run.
It labored. Bruce invited Kathy to accompany him to Marshall Area Flight Middle in Alabama to take a dive in the tank there. The 2 could be engaged on spacewalk methods that is perhaps used sooner or later to assemble an area station. Nevertheless, the Area Shuttle fits nonetheless weren’t prepared to make use of but. Kathy needed to put on Apollo moonwalker Pete Conrad’s go well with, identical to Anna had executed throughout her spacewalk simulations. However whereas the go well with swallowed tiny Anna, it was simply barely too small for Kathy, by about an inch. When she put it on, the go well with stabbed her shoulders, whereas elements of it appeared to dig into her chest and again. She tried to face up and almost handed out. It took all her energy to stroll over to the pool earlier than she flopped into the tank. In the simulated weightless surroundings, the ache instantly evaporated. But it surely was nonetheless an important lesson in space-suit sizes. The fits have to suit their wearers completely if the spacewalk goes to work.
The session could have began off painfully, however as soon as she started tinkering with instruments and understanding tips on how to maneuver her arms to shift the remainder of her physique, she was hooked. She cherished spacewalking a lot that she’d go on to do dozens extra follow dives all through coaching.
But it surely wasn’t sufficient to follow in the pool. She needed to go orbital.