Never let a day go by without learning something new if you can. For instance, I glanced through the news this morning and discovered something amazing: Hillary Clinton wanted to be an astronaut. This came as a bit of a shock, because from all the previous reporting I’d noticed regarding the presumptive Democrat nominee’s childhood dreams, I thought she wanted to be a Marine. (Before The Man crushed her hopes and dreams because she was a girl, that is.) But as it turns out, before she longed to storm the beaches at Iwo Jima, the future First Lady wanted to go into space. Sadly, she was once again informed that that the He Man Woman Hater’s Club wasn’t having any of that either. (Washington Post)
“Now, some of you may know that when I was a little girl growing up in Illinois, I was interested in all kinds of stories about women. And my mother … actually told me about Amelia Earhart. And then when we decided, under President Kennedy’s leadership, that our nation was going to go to the moon and we were going to have an astronaut program, I wanted to be an astronaut. So when I was about 13, I wrote to NASA and asked what I needed to do to try to be an astronaut. And of course, there weren’t any women astronauts, and NASA wrote me back and said there would not be any women astronauts. And I was just crestfallen. But then I realized I couldn’t see very well, and I wasn’t all that athletic, so probably, I wouldn’t be the first woman astronaut anyway.”
— Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speech at event celebrating Amelia Earhart, March 20, 2012
The fact checkers at the WaPo find themselves struggling with this one because, well… nobody seems to keep track of letters from half a century ago. But the overall tone of the supposed letter seems questionable.
Clinton, born in October 1947, would have been 13 when Kennedy announced the moon goal in May 1961. (She has said she was between 12 and 14.)
Neither the Clinton campaign nor NASA could produce the correspondence. But NASA spokeswoman Lauren Worley said the agency has “no reason to doubt its authenticity.”
If NASA rejected Clinton because there was no astronaut program for women or immediate plans for one around 1961 or 1962, the response would have been consistent with the agency’s policy on female astronauts at the time, according to agency officials.
The Washington Post Fact Checker clearly devoted a lot of effort to this investigation, digging up the total number of letters received by NASA during that period and providing several examples. My initial thought upon hearing this story was that it was unlikely that NASA – in the starting stages of a mad dash to reach the moon in nine years – would be answering letters from (then) obscure children. But as it turns out, they actually did answer much of their correspondence, so it’s possible that Hillary wrote to them and received a letter in response.
But was it that much of a flat out, girls need not apply answer? The majority of the letters they found from NASA were actually encouraging in tone and seemed to express gratitude that anyone would be interested in them at that point. Defenders of Hillary’s claim are citing a so called “Miss Kelly letter” which once showed up on Reddit but has since disappeared.
I’ll have to go with the Post on this one, at least to a point. She’s been telling the story for so long (not that I’d heard it) that perhaps she actually did write a letter, or at least believes she did. And they clearly weren’t taking women into the program at that point because it was pretty much just the men of steel test pilots who were chosen to go into space. But did NASA really smack her down in a dismissive fashion and tell her that there would not be any women astronauts? That sounds a bit too convenient to the 2016 edition of Hillary and the narrative she’s weaving for her base.
Either way, it won’t matter in the long run. Next week we’ll no doubt find out that she wanted to be a professional boxer.