Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Search for Miss Kelly

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a news item featuring the "search for Miss Kelly", a woman attending the University of Connecticut who had applied for astronaut training.  NBC news has a copy of a rejection letter from February of 1962 where NASA said "We have no existing program for woman astronauts...nor do we contemplate any such plan..."  Of course, in 1963, the Soviet Union launched the first woman into space but it took many years for the United States to catch up.

We don't know if Miss Kelly ever fulfilled her dream in some other way.  NASA did not officially hire female astronauts until 1978. 

As of the time I blog this, Miss Kelly has not been found.  But, interesting, I saw that this Miss Kelly letter had been published online in 2013 - nine years ago.

Back in 2020, I wrote this about women in the space program, and something I was never taught, even as I watched launches live in my 1960's elementary school classrooms:
"I grew up in the 50's and 60's, a time when we were in a space race with the Soviet Union.

All the astronauts were men.  The people in the control room were men.  That's the way it was back then.

Little did I know about the female "computers", who, starting as early as 1939, helped to put airplanes in the air and, eventually, the United States into space.  No one talked about them.  No one taught us about them in school, even in the science oriented high school I attended in New York City in the late 1960's.

No, NASA's face was totally male. 

I did not pursue a science career (I was never able to conquer mathematics) but the space program always remained of interest to me.

Some of these computers, not machines, but humans who did their calculations by hand, were women of color.  They rode to work in segregated buses, consigned to the back.  They worked in segregated rooms.  Some had to go to the bathroom in a different building than they worked in.

In those days, a "computer" was a human.  Machine computers were primitive, and not trusted for many calculations.

Eventually, a book called "Hidden Figures" told some of the stories of three female computers of color..  Among them was a woman by the name of Katherine Johnson, who did the calculations for some of the first Mercury missions and Apollo 11, the first manned mission to land on the moon, among many other accomplishments.  She retired in 1986.

In an interview several years ago, she humbly said "I did the best I could".

Fast forward to 2017, when spouse and I traveled to Columbia, South Carolina to view the total eclipse of the sun.  

At the museum where we saw the eclipse, there was a NASA trailer and a long line to get in.  We saw their display and, at the end, were invited to the Langley, Virginia NASA facility where Katherine Johnson and others had worked, for an open house that October.  They only hold the open houses every five years, and this one was special - their 100th anniversary.   Health permitting (Ms. Johnson was in a wheelchair by then), Katherine Johnson was planning to attend.

But my elderly mother in law's health was starting to fail, and we could not make the trip."

We never did see Katherine Johnson.  She passed away in 2020. 

I've still kept my interest in the space program, and I'm aware there is a hope of seeing a woman on the moon by 2025.

Now, to see if we can find Miss Kelly.  Maybe this time, we will.


  1. ...I wonder if you are black sliding into the '60s and beyond.

  2. So many missed opportunities for women. / Carol C

  3. I remember the "space race!" And having duck and cover drills in case the Russians ever attacked. Hillary Clinton, at least when a young girl, wanted to be an astronaut. Math was also my undoing as far as some of my future goals when young. My oldest absolutely loves it!

  4. I’m fascinated by the space program as well. We went to the Kennedy Space Center a few years ago, spent the whole day and really want to go back to see the things we missed

  5. I had never heard of Miss Kelly but I love this story!! Fingers crossed we find her!!

  6. I too find the space program fascinating. More women were around, just hidden, like with many things.


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