Nonfiction Books – Almost Astronauts

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream


Stone, Tanya Lee. 2009. ALMOST ASTRONAUTS: 13 WOMEN WHO DARED TO DREAM. Sommerville: Candlewick Press. ISBN 9780763636111

Plot Summary

Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream tells the true story of 13 brave women who dreamed of joining NASA as the first women astronauts. They endured strenuous testing, including hours floating in an isolation tank, and having freezing water injected into their ears.  Stone tells their story with passionate writing, historic photos, and detailed facts. She shows that while these courageous women had the right stuff, it was the wrong time for NASA, and the government to accept women, or anyone other than white men, into the space program.

Critical Analysis

Award winning author Tanya Lee Stone tells the fascinating story of the “Mercury 13 Women” with conviction and passion. In 1961 most women led very traditional lives and were not allowed to rent a car or get a bank loan without a man’s signature. Against this backdrop, Stone tells how these thirteen women were selected, tested, and fought for the right to join America’s race into space as women astronauts. All were accomplished pilots who risked job loss, discrimination, and for one, divorce, to fight for their dream.

Randolph Lovelace, the doctor who oversaw the testing of the Mercury 7 men, conducted the grueling tests and the thirteen women passed with flying colors. Stone writes, “The results offered solid scientific evidence that women were not, in fact, the weaker sex. No one could say that women weren’t strong enough, or smart enough, or fit enough, to fly into space.” And yet those facts were not enough for NASA and the government to give them that chance.

Stone includes detailed descriptions and photographs of the tests the women participated in and the fast paced writing sets the tone throughout the book. Readers will squirm as they read about Jerrie Cobb having freezing water injected into her ears to induce vertigo, and read with anticipation to see if she makes it through the many hours of the isolation tank test. This photo essay conveys the story with photographs, timelines, interviews with the surviving women, and copies of magazine articles. The media showed photos of the smiling faces of Jan and Marion Dietrich, the “first astronaut twins,” and quotes from E. K. Hopper of “Lots of room in space for women.

But behind the scenes at NASA and in Washington, the reality was a very different story. There is full page copy of a letter from Vice President Lynden Johnson squelching the women’s efforts with a bold note stating “Let’s stop this now!” written across it. Despite the bravery and determination of these thirteen women, the reality was that America wasn’t ready to allow them into space.

The book concludes with photographs of the many accomplishments of women astronauts once they were admitted into the space program in 1978. There is also a full-page color photograph of the shuttle Columbia launch in 1999 with Dr. Eileen Collins, the first woman space shuttle commander, at the helm. The remaining members of “Mercury 13” attended the launch and cheered her on from the ground. At the back of the book, Stone lists source notes, photo credits and an author’s note describing her fascination with the women and a determination to share their story.

Review Excerpts

SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL starred review: “This passionately written account of a classic but little-known challenge to established gender prejudices also introduces readers to a select group of courageous, independent women.”

THE HORN BOOK starred review: “Stone presents the full story of early-sixties public discourse about women’s capabilities and clearly shows the personal, political, and physical risks taken by the women in pursuit of their dream.”

VOYA: “Any girl with an interest in space flight or the history of women’s rights will applaud these courageous pioneers.”


2010 Sibert Medal Award

ALA Notable Children’s Book

ALA Best Book for Young Adults

YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction Honor

NCTE Orbis Pictus Honor


  • For a poetry connection, explore the poems Tanya Lee Stone wrote about the “Mercury 13” women, available at the author’s Web Site,
  • Listen to an interview with the author on Vermont Public Radio at
  • Science-Create a timeline of the first forty years of the space program. Include important dates and use alternate colors for events that included male and female astronauts.
  • Language Arts – Research and create a power point presentation about a woman who has been a pioneer in her field. Share the presentation with the class.

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About libraryloverleslie

I love libraries and books, most especially those for children and young adults. I’m a Children’s Librarian in the Pacific the dream!
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