The Six: The Untold Story of America’s First Women Astronauts, by Loren Grush, is the source of the adaptation. Loren Grush’s copyright for 2023. Excerpted with permission from Simon & Schuster, Inc. ‘ s Scribner division.
As NASA’s WB-57F reconnaissance aircraft ascended higher into the sky, Kathy Sullivan, PhD, the third woman to fly in space and the future head of the NOAA, sat in the back seat. As they ascended, Jim Korkowski, the pilot, kept an eye on the altimeter of the aircraft. They had just ascended to 60,000 feet when they stopped rising. The plane was designed to handle such extremes despite the dizzyingly high altitude.
Jim and Kathy were both ready inside the cockpit. They were fully dressed in high-altitude pressure suits worn by the air force. The equipment resembled actual space suits to the untrained eye. Each ensemble featured a large, dark onesie, heavy gloves, and heavy helmet. As the high-altitude air thinned out and made it nearly impossible for the human body to function, the combination was created to exert pressure on the body.
The duo eventually ascended to 63,300 feet, which was their intended height. Their pressure suits could mean the difference between life and death at that altitude. If their bodies were left unprotected, the air pressure in the area would cause their blood to boil. However, the research expedition was uneventful while the suits were on. Kathy used a specialized infrared camera to capture color images, and she also used different light wavelengths to scan the far-off landscape.
The flight only lasted four hours in total, and they only spent an hour and a half over Big Bend. On July 1, 1979, Kathy made history by ascending to that final altitude above West Texas, despite the fact that it may have seemed like a quick and simple flight. She set an unofficial world aviation record at that precise moment by flying higher than any woman had ever done.
She had initially been terrified by the assignment to train with the WB-57, but Kathy eventually grew to love those high-flying aircraft. Other than this slight worry that I might be falling off the face of the planet, Kathy said,” That was very enjoyable. She traveled north to Alaska and south to Peru as part of the assignment. She became the first woman to wear pressure suits from the air force, just as she had hoped. She soon became accustomed to wearing a full-body suit intended to keep her alive.
She was also sought out by NASA officials to test a brand-new piece of space-traveling equipment they were creating for upcoming Shuttle astronauts. NASA created a relatively sophisticated device for astronauts to urinate while wearing their flight suits during the Apollo and Gemini eras. In essence, it was a collection bag-attached flexible rubber cuff that fit around the penis. Although Michael Collins asserted that the astronauts gave them their own terms:” extra large ,”” immense ,” and” unbelievable ,” the condom-like handcuffs were available in sizes” small ,” medium, and large.” Without a doubt, the system was not foolproof. Under the sheath, urine frequently leaked out.
Once women joined the astronaut corps, handcuffs were undoubtedly going to be useless. The astronauts still required some outlet while they were strapped to their seats for hours in anticipation of launch or reentry, even though the Space Shuttle had a stylish new restroom for both men and women. Additionally, a spacewalking device would be required for one of the women during those hours at sea. The Disposable Absorption Containment Trunk ( DACT ) was therefore developed by NASA engineers. It was a diaper in its most basic form. In the event that astronauts needed to urinate away from the toilet, it was a simple fix. Although the women most likely chose to wait until they reached orbit for fecal matter to be absorbed, it was also intended to do so.
The ideal candidate to test it out was Kathy. She would frequently spend hours at a time in her pressure suit during her high-altitude flights, providing the ideal testing conditions for evaluating the DACT’s durability. It functioned flawlessly. The DACT eventually became everyone’s standard piece of equipment, despite the fact that the first male Shuttle pilots stayed in their handcuffs.
Kathy hoped to apply her experience to a flight assignment that might one day allow her to go for walks outside the Space Shuttle after spending hundreds of hours wearing these pressure suits. Fortunately, she encountered Bruce McCandless II one afternoon in the JSC gym. When it came to spacewalks, he was the expert. He was in charge of creating all the spacewalk procedures and protocols for NASA officials, and he occasionally appeared to reside there. Additionally, he frequently invited a classmate of Kathy’s to join him on tank runs. Kathy desired to follow. She asked him to think about her for his upcoming training run, projecting as much confidence as she could.
It was effective. Kathy was invited to go with Bruce to the Alabama Marshall Space Flight Center so they could dive into the tank. They would be developing spacewalking methods that could one day be applied to building a space station. The Space Shuttle suits, however, weren’t yet prepared for use. Like Anna did during her spacewalk simulations, Kathy was required to don the suit of Apollo moonwalker Pete Conrad. The suit, however, was only an inch or so too small for Kathy, even though it swallowed tiny Anna. The suit stabbed her shoulders and appeared to dig into her chest and back when she put it on. She nearly passed out while attempting to stand up. Before falling into the tank, she had to use all of her strength to walk over to the pool. The pain vanished right away in the fake weightless environment. However, it was still an important space-suit size lesson. If the spacewalk is to be successful, the suits must fit the wearers perfectly.
She may have had a painful beginning to the session, but as soon as she started fiddling with tools and learning how to move her arms and the rest of her body, she became addicted. She would perform dozens more practice dives throughout training because she loved spacewalking so much.
However, practicing in the pool was insufficient. She desired orbital travel.