By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal
America’s first woman in space, Sally Ride, left this green Earth aboard Shuttle Challenger in 1983.
She blazed a trail which so many women followed, for their own gains, great and small.
Monday, she left this green Earth for parts unknown, and she left it far too young at 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Most of us didn’t have the good fortune to meet or know Sally Ride, but she was an inspiration for me as a young mother and career woman in the early ’80s.
She came along at just the right time – the women’s movement had helped open up science across America’s universities. By the time she applied to the space program with her physics and astrophysics degrees, plus another in English, NASA had made a commitment to admit women.
Still, Ride didn’t have it easy all the time. She politely endured reporters’ questions about how space flight would affect her reproductive organs, did she plan to have children, should she wear a bra or makeup, did she cry on the job, how would she deal with “womanly functions” in space?
The day after a crowd of 250,000 watched Challenger’s launch, MS. magazine editor Gloria Steinum said, “Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists.”
When Sally Ride returned to Earth, she said it was the most fun she’d ever had in her life, such a fitting response for the youngest American ever to go into space.
When President Reagan appointed her to the commission to investigate Challenger’s horrific explosion in 1986, she asked the tough questions. She later said it was difficult not to be angry by the findings that a NASA engineer had warned his colleagues that tragedy could occur if the weather were too cold for the booster rocket’s seals, called O-rings.
Sally Ride also will be remembered her passion to make science and engineering cool again.
In 1982, she married a fellow astronaut, Steven Hawley. They divorced five years later.
What the wider public didn’t know was that Sally Ride was gay.
Sally Ride never made a big deal about her personal life. She never wrote her life’s story.
She made a big deal about inspiring others.
Today, she is survived by her mother, sister and partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.
O’Shaughnessy co-wrote four books with Ride and helped her found and operate her foundation, Sally Ride Science.
She was at Ride’s side through so many triumphs and the final, losing battle.
So, what are we to think about this – that one of America’s most iconic heroes was not who we thought she was?
Frankly, that piece of obituary information is just part of her story.
But it just goes to show that everybody is invited to America’s table, or should be.
Patsy R. Brumfield writes a Thursday column. Contact her at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.