Aviator Bernice Steadman Of NASA Mercury 13 Mission Passes Away


Bernice Steadman, a member of the First Lady Astronaut Trainees (FLATs) or the Mercury 13 program, died at her Traverse City, Mich., home at age 89.

The Mercury 13 program was a privately funded program that included 13 women who trained to become the first female astronauts for the first human spaceflight program in the U.S. in the early 1960s. Mercury 13 was never an official U.S National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) program.

"The commitment of these women paved the way for others who followed," per NASA.

Steadman was an accomplished pilot and received her flying license even before her driver's license. However, her gender denied her the opportunity to become an astronaut at that time.

Bernice's autobiography, called "Tethered Mercury: A Pilot's Memoir: The Right Stuff - But the Wrong Sex," says that her gender was probably the only reason that prevented her dream of becoming an astronaut. Robert Steadman, Bernice's husband, also agreed that the prevalent sexist attitude at that time prevented her from becoming an astronaut.

The Mercury 13 program involved participants who underwent the same tests that were taken by male counterparts. However, the Mercury 13 never flew in space and the team members did not meet.

Steadman also was among the handful of women to achieve the Airline Transport Rating (ATR), which is the top rating that is available to a pilot. Even though during her time the airline industry did not hire women pilots, Steadman taught around 200 men how to fly, according to her husband.

In 1973, she opened a clothing store for women. In 1975, she underwent brain surgery. She co-founded the International Women's Air & Space Museum, which is now in Cleveland. She also co-founded a taxi company in Traverse City in 1996.

Steadman spent her free time playing badminton and golf. Her husband revealed that she had a "gorgeous swing." She also had interest in hunting and had a great aim.

Robert revealed that Bernice was suffering with Alzheimer's disease for the last few years and died at her home on Wednesday, March 18. Bernice is survived by her husband, her brother Ray Whipple, son Michael Steadman and two grandchildren.

On May 23, a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Traverse City.

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