Sally Ride, First US Woman in Space

Posted on July 24, 2012

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Dr. Sally Ride, first US woman in space, has passed away at the young age of 61, just three days after the 43rd anniversary of the first moon landing.  She was a real role model for women everywhere:  bright, educated, brave, adventurous, and fully capable of achieving great things on her own merits.

Dr. Ride was a physicist and engineer, and I think her 1983 flight aboard the Challenger marked the first time I really realized that astronauts are, first and foremost, scientists.  I had grown up with the Apollo missions, which seemed mostly manned by military pilots testing our ability to meet President Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”  By Dr. Ride’s time, the space program had become much more involved with intensive research and complex experiments in space, requiring astronauts who not only could withstand the physical and psychological stresses of space flight, but were top-notch scientists as well.

Dr. Ride was as cool and poised as she was smart and fit.  As the Seattle Times reports, she gracefully handled all kinds of incredibly rude and sexist questions and jokes about her upcoming space flight.  And in the face of it all, she did what pioneering women did in those days:  she went out and showed the world that she was not only capable, but among the very best.  And in doing that, she helped pave the way for other women to make progress in other areas, to have opportunities of their own.  By the time she flew her second space mission in 1984, a female astronaut was no big deal.

What a contrast with today’s female role models.  Where Dr. Ride earned her way to the top through education and effort, too many women today come to our attention through “reality” TV shows, “leaked” sex tapes, or illicit affairs with athletes or politicians.  Where Dr. Ride was tough, dignified and accomplished,our tabloid fodder today comes off as low-class, ill-behaved and tawdry.

Dr. Ride’s passing is a great loss.  I only hope that the news of her passing will rekindle interest in her story, and perhaps show a new generation of young girls that education and personal effort are the path to real opportunities, real accomplishments, and real respect.

Ride, Sally Ride!

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