Miss NASA Beauty Pageant: Queen of Outer Space

Mindy posted this picture from a mysterious “Miss NASA” beauty pageant on our Tumblr the other day.

Miss Nasa 1968-9

She is wearing a tiara and interacting with a Dalek-like machine. Although it is unclear whether she was just told to touch it and vaguely smile into the distance. According to Artifacting, who published these photos, this was taken in 1968 or 1969.

It turns out that according to Lori Garver, Deputy Administrator at NASA, “we had beauty pageants at the NASA centers, and you could become the Queen of Outer Space.” (Context: she was talking about how bad sexism was in the past.) I did some sleuthing on the NASA website to see if I could uncover any more information on these pageants.

As the post at Artifacting suggested, it seems like these were based at particular centers. I found a lot of information about the beauty contest at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. The tradition started in 1952 with a spring dance that culminated with the coronation of a Queen. In 1959, it became the Queen of Outer Space Ball–I’m assuming after the 1958 Zsa Zsa Gabor movie by the same name.

queenOfOuterSpace_screenshot

I’m just going to quote IMDB for a summary of that movie.

Three American astronauts are on the first manned mission to Venus, and when they arrive, they find the planet to be inhabited solely by women with high heels and short dresses. Unfortunately, they are immediately imprisoned, for the queen who rules Venus hates men… Suspecting the astronauts to be spies, she now plans to destroy the Earth. So now it’s up to the three men (and some friendly Venusians) to overthrow the wicked queen and save the Earth.

This movie description is just screaming “TROPES!” I don’t even want to know what the ball was like. Oh wait–here’s an unfortunate glimpse.

jpl_queenOuterSpace

A photo from the JPL archives published in a book about former NASA director, William Pickering, who is pictured here. Pickering crowned the winners himself from 1954 to 1976.

To the credit of JPL, the name used to be worse: the Miss Guided Missile Pageant. (That was back when JPL focused mainly on missiles.) As M.G. Lord writes in her book, Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science:

Although a torpedo brassiere might thrust a candidate to the forefront–one campaign manager described his candidate as “a shapely craft, 5’6″ in height, payload 120 lbs of well-designed equipment”–beauty alone would not secure the title. Aspirants had to mount the sort of popularity contest that one associates with class office in junior high. This was not a marginalized pageant; it dramatized the impunity with which JPL men objectified women.

The fact that this pageantry of sexism (hah, see what I did there?) happened at more than one NASA center is more than enough to make me glad that I live 50 years in the future.

If anyone has other sources, pictures, or information about these pageants, I’d be happy to collect them all!

Sources:

Garver, Lori. 14 March 2012. Remarks of Deputy Administrator Garver at Women’s Empowerment and Women’s Education Event. Accessed online, through NASA speech archives.

Lord, M.G. 2005. Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science. Walker Publishing Company, Inc. Accessed online, through Google Books.

Mudgway, D.J. William H. Pickering: America’s Deep Space Pioneer. Accessed online, through NASA history archives.

Vy is a recent graduate working in a neuroscience lab with children and monkeys. She likes sewing, knitting, lifting weights, and reading in her free time. Especially reading about science!

2 Comments

  1. That “Dalek-like machine” is a rocket thruster.

  2. I wonder if anyone at the NASA History Office would have any information on this.

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