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Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman (1928–2021), one of the first female astronaut candidates

by Linnea Crowther

Rhea Hurrle Allison Woltman was a pilot who was one of the Mercury 13, the women who were tested as potential astronaut candidates in the early 1960s.

Rigorous tests and a cancelled program

Woltman became a pilot at a young age, and in 1959, she was among 21 women who were recruited to take the same tests that were being undergone by male astronaut candidates at NASA. Woltman was among the 13 women who passed preliminary tests and became known as the Mercury 13. The name was a reflection of the male candidates, who were called the Mercury Seven – but Jerrie Cobb (1931–2019), the program’s standout candidate, playfully dubbed them the FLATs, or First Lady Astronaut Trainees. Woltman continued to advance as testing grew more rigorous, and she was one of the program’s most notable candidates. However, the program, a privately funded venture that wasn’t officially affiliated with NASA, was scrapped when the U.S. government refused to consider adding women to its roster of astronauts.

Later life

After Woltman left the training program, she and her husband operated an aircraft brokerage business, and she frequently used her skills as a pilot as she delivered planes and flew passengers and cargo. She later trained U.S. Air Force Academy cadets and continued flying until her retirement in 2014, at the age of 86. In 2007, Wiltman and the other women of the Mercury 13 were honored by the U.S. House of Representatives with House Resolution 421, which honors and recognizes the contributions of the Mercury 13 and “Encourages young women to follow in the footsteps of those women and pursue careers of excellence in aviation and astronautics, as well as in engineering and science.”


Full obituary: St. Cloud Times

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