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America's 1st female astronaut candidate, Jerrie Cobb, dies

Cobb was first woman to pass astronaut training

Jerrie Cobb, part of the first class of U.S. female astronaut trainees, poses next to a Mercury spaceship capsule. Cobb died in March at age 88. (Image: NASA)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – America's first female astronaut candidate, pilot Jerrie Cobb, has died.

Cobb died in Florida at age 88 last month. News of her death came Thursday from journalist Miles O'Brien, serving as a family spokesman.

In 1961, Cobb became the first woman to pass astronaut testing as part of a private Woman in Space Program started by Dr. William Randolph Lovelace II.

Altogether, 13 women passed the arduous physical testing and became known as the Mercury 13. But NASA already had its Mercury 7 astronauts, all test pilots and men.

None of the Mercury 13 ever reached space.

Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova would become the first woman in space in 1963. A decade later Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.

Cobb served for decades as a humanitarian aid pilot in the Amazon jungle. She emerged in 1998 to make another pitch for space, as NASA prepared to launch John Glenn on shuttle Discovery at age 77. Cobb argued unsuccessfully that the research should include an older woman.

When NASA astronaut Eileen Collins commanded Space Shuttle Discovery in 2005 she invited the surviving Mercury 13 to attend the launch as her guests.

“The women of Lovelace’s Woman in Space Program feel a special kinship with Collins, who in the 1990s finally fulfilled their 30 dream of seeing an American woman pilot astronaut,” according to NASA’s History Office.