In the summer of 1962, the House Committee on Science and Astronautics held a hearing to debate the role of women in the nation’s space program. The three astronauts who testified, all men, warned members of Congress that if NASA trained women in the space mission, “we would have to slow down on our national goal of landing a man on the moon in this decade.”
“I couldn’t care less who’s over there [in the next seat] as long as it’s the most qualified person,” the astronaut John Glenn said.
Which sounds reasonable, if a little terse, until Glenn continued with this apparent contradiction: “I wouldn’t oppose a women’s astronaut training program; I just see no requirement for it.”
Glenn’s message, as he went on, seemed to be that, sure, a qualified woman could be an astronaut—except a woman like that probably didn’t exist. “As an analogy,” Glenn said, “My mother could probably pass the preseason physical examination given [by] the Washington Redskins, but I don't think she could play many games.”
Glenn and his fellow astronauts were rankled by having to talk about the possibility of women joining them in space at all, according to news reports at the time. The New York Times described Glenn as “ill at ease and more than a little annoyed.”