There's more than a few moments in Mercury 13's brisk 80-minute runtime that'll have you pausing it to take in the magnitude of what's happening, and why it is that it happened.
In fact, while it'd be easy to make a documentary that focuses on the sheer outrage of it why it was that a group of thirteen extraordinary women pilots were barred from becoming the first female astronauts, Mercury 13 smartly divests from it - though not entirely. Instead, the documentary focuses on the incredible achievements they made, their resilience and highlights truthfully and unapologetically just how backward NASA was at the time - particularly some of the astronauts, including the likes of John Glenn.
The documentary charts the beginnings of the experiment, in which a brilliant doctor and a rich investor decided to see if women were capable of becoming astronauts during the height of the Space Race, right through to its eventual end at the hands of both NASA and Lyndon B. Johnson, who's singled out as being specifically responsible for the eventual closure. Again, while it'd be easy to be outraged by it, the documentary doesn't give in and instead shifts gears to show how resilient and resourceful the women were - some went on to become test pilots, others continued flying as their hobby, others became ardent activists for women's rights - all while the Soviets leapt forward and placed a woman in space decades before the Americans.
The direction is crisp and sharp, and the artistic interludes between the interviews service the story and the hopeful nature of it. Like The Farthest, Mercury 13 is an engaging and insightful look at space and science that doesn't get bogged down in the specifics, but never becomes lazy or ineffectual with the story it's telling. It's told briskly and efficiently, and the outcome of it all is that - eventually - history vindicated these women as best it could.