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Remembering and Honoring Sally Ride: An American Hero
Sally Ride, she may not be a household name, but she certainly should be. She was a Stanford graduate with a PhD in physics, a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and a former NASA Astronaut. She was a pioneer and a true American Hero.
In the late 1970s, Sally Ride, along with 8,000 other hopeful applicants responded to a newspaper ad seeking applicants for NASA's space program. Shortly after being selected, in early 1978, she joined NASA's astronaut training program. This was the dawn of the Space Shuttle era and by the early 1980s, Sally Ride was well on her way to finding a seat on a Space Shuttle Flight. On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became not only the first American woman to enter space; she also became the youngest American ever, at age 32, to enter space. She had broken the barrier of this once exclusive all male club, she was a pioneer, a young female Astronaut with all the right stuff.
In the 1960s and early 1970s NASA had always been a “boys club”. For a woman to have broken this barrier was a big deal. Sally Ride not only had to prove herself capable, she had to prove that she could compete with and hold her own in a career field that had preconceived notions and had always been dominated by men.
When she lifted off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in June of 1983, on STS-7, she not only broke the sound barrier on her way into space, she broke the glass ceiling for a generation of women trying to prove that they could excel in the field of science, and she paved the way for other women in NASA’s Astronaut corps.
Sally Ride would go on to fly two Space Shuttle missions and would spend a total 343 hours in space. She was so well respected within the NASA community that in 1986 she was appointed to the presidential commission investigating the Space Shuttle Challenger accident.
In August of 1987, Sally Ride retired from NASA to pursue a career in academia. In 2003, following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident she was once again sort out and asked to join the board investigating the accident. Sally was the only person to have served on both Space Shuttle accident investigation committee's.
Despite her rise to fame in NASA and academia, Sally Ride continued to focus her energy and efforts on encouraging children, particularly young girls, to enter the field of math and science. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company committed to creating science programs and publications aimed at young students. Ride also authored and co-authored five books on space, all aimed at drawing children into the study of science.
Today, it is not uncommon to find brilliant women in all fields of science. It wasn’t always this way. For those of us who grew up during the Apollo era of the late 1960s and early 1970s, you would be hard pressed to have found a woman in the control room at NASA, let alone sitting atop a Saturn Five Rocket on the launch pad. Space was a man’s world back then. Today, thanks to pioneer’s like Sally Ride, it’s a much different world.
Sally Ride passed away on July 23, 2012 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Much too soon for this brilliant groundbreaking pioneer who forever changed the face of NASA. Thank you Sally for the great “Ride” and for blazing new frontiers and breaking barriers. You are a true American hero.
© 2012 Bill De Giulio