Honoring the Mercury 13 Women
May 12, 2007 * UW Oshkosh Spring Commencement

Before Sally Ride, Christa McAuliffe and Eileen Collins, courageous women were setting new records and conquering new horizons. Though largely unrecognized in history, the Mercury 13 women showed their determination, strength and bravery in the Space Race with accomplishments that paved the way for generations. The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh is proud to recognize the pioneering spirit of these women with honorary Doctor of Science—honoris causa—degrees.


Irene Leverton

A strong-willed woman, Irene Leverton’s first aviation experience was as a child in Chicago when she and her mother would go to a local park to enjoy parachute rides.

Wanting to pursue aviation and, furthermore, to fly fighters, she attempted to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) when she was 17 by using a fake logbook and an older friend’s birth certificate. She greatly admired the WASP, and at the time that was the best flying a woman could do. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out.

That didn’t stop her though. By 1961, Leverton held a commercial pilot’s license, with airplane single and multi-engine land ratings, instrument ratings, and airplane single engine sea ratings and had built up more than 9,000 flight hours—far more than any Mercury 7 astronaut. She was 34 and single when she was contacted by Dr. Lovelace.

In 1965, Leverton attempted a Pacific Ocean crossing in a single-engine Comanche. Seven hours and 30 minutes out of San Francisco, she had an electrical fire. With all radio equipment out and no navigation gear available, she turned around. Seven hours and 15 minutes later, she landed back in San Francisco.

Leverton continued to fly after the Mercury 13 testing, and up until recently, she still flew part time for a manufacturing company in Arizona. She currently works with a Civil Air Patrol squadron, Squadron 206, as a flight check pilot. She has in excess of 25,400 flight hours, and currently owns a consulting business, Aviation Resource Management in Arizona, and is a designated aviation safety counselor through the FAA.

Download Irene Leverton commendation (pdf)