Today there is serious discussion about the importance of STEM classes (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)for our nation’s economy, and also about how to make these fields attractive to women. Sally Ride was ahead of the curve.
American space travel in the last half of the twentieth century is filled with firsts: the first to go into space, the first to circumnavigate the globe, the first to land on the moon, but all these firsts were accomplished by men. Even though women trained alongside men in the early U.S. space program, it was determined (without any scientific evidence to support the contention) that women were not suited for space travel and they were eliminated from astronaut training. This was not true in Russia where the first man into space, Yuri Gugarin, orbited the earth in 1961 and Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space two years later. In the United States the first man into space made a suborbital flight a few weeks after the first Russian man, but it was another seventeen years before Sally Ride was admitted to astronaut training and twenty-two years before Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space.
When she was young, Sally Ride thought she might pursue a career in tennis since she was nationally ranked as a junior, but her studies at Stanford changed her mind. After earning a double major in English and Physics, she decided to pursue a career in Physics and earned a doctorate. It was in the Stanford newspaper that she saw the advertisement soliciting applicants to the space program and she was one of 8,000 people who applied. On June 18, 1983, she was launched into space from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Her second flight was the first with a five-person crew and the first with two women crewmembers.
She was preparing for her third flight when the space shuttle Challenger exploded, killing all onboard, including Christa McAuliffe, the first Teacher in Space. All flights were cancelled and Dr. Ride served as a member of the Presidential Commission that investigated the accident.
When she left NASA, Dr. Ride became director of the California Space Institute at the University of California, and a professor of Physics. She inspires girls and young women to study science and math through Sally Ride Science, an organization she founded and served as president and CEO. President Obama awarded her with the Medal of Freedom, the highest award given to a civilian in our country. It was presented to her family the year after she died.
Read the Mashable editorial by Amanda Willis on why we need to focus on more than the fact that Sally Ride was the First Woman To. . .:http://mashable.com/2013/06/19/sally-ride-wrong-questions/
For a bio and video about Sally Ride’s thoughts on being the First Woman To. . .:http://www.space.com/16756-sally-ride-biography.html
Sally Ride’s official NASA bio:http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/ride-sk.html
There are a number of book-length biographies of Sally Ride, most of them written by women.
QUESTION OF THE WEEK:
Were you encouraged to study STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects or pushed to more “traditional” fields for women?