Last week, the United States Postal Service unveiled a Forever stamp honoring astronaut Sally Ride.
Sally Ride was a physicist and astronaut. When she was a student at Stanford University, she and 8000 other people responded to a NASA ad in the student newspaper. The ad was an open call seeking applicants for the US space program. Sally answered the call, and the rest is history.
Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978. In 1983, she became the first American woman in space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger. She was 32, and the youngest American astronaut to travel in space. Although she kept her personal life intensely private, Sally Ride was also a ground-breaker in another area. She was a lesbian and so is the first known LGBT American astronaut.
Sally Ride’s career as a NASA astronaut lasted until the late 1980s. She then worked at a couple of California universities and eventually headed the California Space Institute, but she never left behind her connections to the space program. She led two public-outreach programs for NASA. She wrote, or co-wrote, seven books for children on space exploration and science.
Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012. I remember her communications from the flight deck of the Challenger. She was always smiling, as if she was thrilled to be doing a job she loved. Isn’t that what we all want, to be fulfilled and respected in our life’s work? She left an incredible legacy for women and for the world–Earth and beyond.
To become an astronaut, a person has to be intelligent and physically fit, know how to work with a team, and balance bravery and wonder. Sally Ride was all of those things, as well as a gender ground-breaker. But every ground-breaker has to put up with backlash, disapproval, and resistance. My admiration for Sally Ride grows exponentially every time I recall a pre-flight interview with the Challenger crew.
First, Sally Ride was asked if her reproductive organs would be affected by the flight. She answered that there was no evidence of that.
Then this question: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” She said, “How come nobody ever asks Rick those questions?” and refused to answer beyond that.
At the end of the interview, she said, “It may be too bad that our society isn’t further along and that this is such a big deal.”
Damn skippy, Sally. For making that public observation, she not only deserves a stamp, but her own planet, if you ask me.
Now I’m going off to buy some Sally Ride stamps. You?