BY KAREN KORNEGAY
This week, Dr. Sally Ride died from pancreatic cancer. In 1983, Dr. Ride was the first American woman to fly in space, becoming a role model for girls who wanted to pursue careers in science, mathematics and aeronautics.
What many people don't know is that the first American woman in space could have been -- and perhaps should have been -- Geraldyn "Jerrie" Cobb, who was recruited by NASA for its astronaut program in 1959.
Cobb began flying airplanes as a teen-ager in Oklahoma and earned a commercial pilot's license by her 18th birthday. She set world records for altitude and speed and was named one of the "100 most important young people in the United States" by Life magazine. She was named Pilot of the Year by the National Pilots Association.
In 1959, Cobb was chosen as the first woman to receive physical and psychological testing as part of the Mercury Astronaut Selection Tests. She passed all three tests with high marks and was one of 13 women who trained for space flight in NASA's "lady astronaut" program.
Unfortunately, none of those women ever flew in space. In 1960, NASA established requirements that would keep women out of the the astronaut corps until 1978.
A woman did fly in space in the 1960s -- a Russian woman, Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited Earth in 1963 -- but it would be another 20 years before America provided that opportunity to a woman. Dr. Sally Ride finally achieved the prize that had been denied to Jerrie Cobb.
Jerrie Cobb was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1981.
Photo: Jerrie Cobb was recruited by NASA as a pilot in 1959. (Credit: NASA)