Sally Ride: A Call To Soar/Love Freely

  • Jun 18, 2014 1:17am GMT

Today, June 18th, is the anniversary of Dr. Sally Ride’s 1983 flight to become the “First American Woman in Space.”

I spent last weekend reading the new Sally Ride Biography by Lynn Sherr cover-to-cover. I am not usually that voracious a reader, but after Ride's 27-year relationship to Tam O'Shaughnessy was revealed in her July 2012 obituary I had been waiting a long time to learn more.

I even hosted a Women in Space event at the Griffith Observatory in L.A. last year to honor the 30th anniversary of Sally Ride's historic "First American Woman in Space" flight hoping to learn a tiny bit more from Sally's sister and gay Presbyterian Minister, Rev. ‘Bear’ Ride (she got the nickname from her older sister Sally when she was just a baby) or her mom Joyce, but I was too polite to ask everything I wanted to know.

Bear gave a great presentation about how Sally wanted to be a shortstop for the L.A. Dodgers and how much she loved Crusader Rabbit. She also mentioned that Sally's friend and journalist Lynn Sherr would be writing an autobiography and her friends and family were all cooperating to finally get Sally's whole story written.

It is a great story too.

Sally’s parents did a great job of raising her to believe she could do anything and she did. She excelled at tennis and pursued that through college until she decided she wasn't up for going pro. She excelled at science in high school and was especially inspired by a human physiology class from an extraordinary teacher Dr. Mommaerts who helped kindle her love of discovery. After stints at Swarthmore and UCLA she ended up at Stanford to study physics. A high school English teacher had dubbed her, “far too science-oriented, no creativity,” so she double majored in English as well, perhaps just to prove herself. She was just finishing a PhD there, as the only woman in the physics department, when she saw the call for astronauts open to women for the first time.

When she got to NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas in 1978, she and the other five women who had been selected found themselves in a world wholly unprepared for women. All six of them have MD’s or PhD’s. Before they arrived, of the 4,000 technical employees there were only about four women who were part of the technical staff. “We more than doubled the number of women with PhD’s at the center,” Sally once said.

She did a great job helping disabuse her fellow astronauts, NASA personnel, and members of the media of their many biases, assumptions and downright inaccurate views of women. When during one press conference a reporter asked her when there is a problem or a glitch, “How do you respond? How do you take it as a human being? Do you weep?” She laughed, gestured to pilot Rick Hauck sitting next to her and replied, “Why doesn’t anybody ask Rick these questions?” On another occasion she was reviewing what the ground had planned for the new women’s personal space toiletries kit and brought along fellow astronaut Dr. Kathy Sullivan for back up. They both tried to stay professional when they pulled out sausage-linked tampon after tampon after tampon, comically well beyond what could possibly be needed for the six-day mission.