Netflix will attempt to preempt Amazon’s planned narrative miniseries on a group of Kennedy-era, aspiring female astronauts — “Mercury 13” — with a documentary of the same name. The Netflix offering features interviews with pilots who underwent physical and psychological testing in 1961 as part of a privately-funded secret program. The program was not NASA sanctioned, however, and opposition from orbit-bound John Glenn and others prevented the women’s training from being recognized as legitimate.
While Netflix’s project has flown mostly under the radar, Deadline reported in November that “The Post” co-writer Liz Hannah would adapt Martha Ackmann’s 2003 memoir, “The Mercury 13: The Untold Story of Thirteen American Women and the Dream of Space Flight” for its rival streaming service. Hannah will be the Pascal Pictures-produced Amazon series’ showrunner and executive producer. With her Freckle Films banner, Oscar-nominated actress Jessica Chastain was once slated to produce yet another Mercury 13 account, for ITV Studios America.
Thirteen of 20 women successfully completed the tasks required of male astronauts (including Glenn) who participated in Mercury Seven spaceflights between May 1961 and 1963. Even though some of the women outperformed their male counterparts, prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, they were unable to sway Congressional public hearing audiences that they were the victims of sexual discrimination. Most of the Mercury Seven were previously test pilots for military jets, an opportunity then not available to women, who were still prohibited from attending Air Force training schools.
Netflix’s “Mercury 13” was directed by Brits David Sington and Heather Walsh, who collaborated a decade ago on the Science Channel’s docuseries “Moon Machines.” Borrowing from archival footage of man’s first lunar walk, NASA’s control room, and the picket lines of second-wave feminism, this documentary premiered Sunday at San Francisco International Film Festival. Another screening will take place later this spring at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.
Each project follow the success of 20th Century Fox’s box office hit and 2017 Best Picture nominee “Hidden Figures,” another long-overlooked story about women whose help was enlisted during the Space Race. Russia bested the United States in sending the first person (1961) and first woman (1963) into space, but the first footsteps on the moon belonged to American Neil Armstrong (1969). He will be the subject of his own film later this year, “First Man,” the re-teaming of “La La Land” veterans Damien Chazelle and Ryan Gosling.
“Mercury 13” begins streaming on April 20. Watch the trailer below.