Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.
Reviewed by Mark Lardas
September 3, 2023
“The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts,” by Loren Grush, Scribner, 2023, 432 pages, $32.50 (hardcover), $16.99 (ebook)
In 1978 NASA selected 35 new astronauts. Among them were the first six women picked as astronaut candidates: Sally Ride, Judith Resnick, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon.
“The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts,” by Loren Grush tells their story. It relates the opening years of the Space Shuttle program.
Their arrival marked a new era at NASA, the end of the test pilot era and the start of a new age in spaceflight. Using the Space Shuttle access to space, NASA claimed, would become as routine as airline travel. This included women in the astronaut pool.
Grush shows all six were highly qualified. Two were physicians. Four were research scientists. All were athletic, one played sports on a semi-pro level. Two had private pilot’s licenses prior to joining NASA. All were interested in space.
Grush follows each of the six through their early lives to their selection as astronauts. She takes readers through their period as astronaut candidate, the grueling training period they experienced. She also examines the lens of publicity they were under. The press treated them as nine day wonders.
The women expected pushback and male chauvinism from their male counterparts. Before them NASA had been a boy’s club. (The male astronauts soon accepted them as colleagues.) What was unexpected to them was the stereotyping done by the press. This especially irritated publicity-averse individuals like Sally Ride and Judy Resnick.
Grush also follows them through their flight careers during the years 1983 through 1986, from Sally Ride’s first flight on STS-7 through Judy Resnick’s death on the Challenger disaster. It was a period when all six flew, some more than once. She examines their experiences and reactions to spaceflight. She also follows their personal and professional lives during that period. Among their firsts was the first mother in space, when Anna Fisher flew.
The book winds down after Challenger. Ride was a member of the Rodger’s Commission examining the causes of the disaster, and Grush looks at Ride’s role on the commission. Grush also touches on the careers of the five surviving women following the resumption of the Shuttle program, but only briefly.
“The Six” puts its focus on the glory years of the Shuttle program, 1978 through 1986. The book captures an era when there was only up in space. Well-written and exciting, it is a worthwhile read.
Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. He was a Shuttle Navigator from 1983-1986. His website is marklardas.com.