Outer Space Inspires Once Again

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

By Lynn Sherr

Yesterday, Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko blasted off to spend a year in space. The purpose is to experiment in preparation for a manned two to three year mission to Mars. In light of this new effort, perhaps it’s time to pause and remember one of the great space personalities, America’s first woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride. And among the best ways to do that is to read Lynn Sherr’s fine biography of this multidimensional woman.

Sherr does Dr. Sally Ride more than justice. She not only focuses on what Ride accomplished while with NASA, which went beyond being the first American woman in space, but also her contribution to greater equality between men and women (still a ways off, of course), greater opportunities for women in science, and greater science literacy among the American public, in particular, inspiring young girls and boys to pursue careers in the sciences.

Sherr starts at the beginning with the Ride family, parents and sister Bear. Ride was an outstanding athlete and a college ranked tennis player. She was also very smart; she loved literature and possessed a passion for math and physics, a career in which she went on to pursue. This opened up the NASA opportunity and she took it. If there was ever an old boys club, NASA was it. What a curious creature this Sally Ride was, a woman who thought she could do a man’s job. Of course, Ride triumphed to the point where she became the most recognizable face of NASA. She was always, even in the midst of institutional incompetence, even after she left, always a team player. But a team player who wasn’t afraid to surface the flaws in NASA’s management of programs, not once, but twice: Challenger and Columbia.

Her experiences at NASA exposed her to much, putting her into contact with major figures in American politics and business. She could have done any number of things after NASA. She did do much, but primary among her endeavors was showing women that there was a place for them in the sciences, that they were good at math and science, and guess what?, math and science were fun and fulfilling. Sally Ride Science became the vehicle for spreading the word through space camps, educational programs, and media.

Sally Ride was a private person who revealed little about herself, often not even to those closest to her. In the end, the very end, she relented. Sherr mixes throughout information about Ride’s feminism, her marriage, and her loves. She devotes a chapter to Ride’s sexuality and her long and loving life with Tam O’Shaughnessy. She also spends time on Ride’s untimely death from pancreatic cancer, a death met with dignity.

Includes photos, notes on the author’s primary sources (interviews with many people whom Ride loved, worked with, and touched throughout her life), and an index.

Finally, if you have children, especially daughters, you might consider putting this book in their hands. Ultimately, above Ride’s abundance of accomplishments, what most shines though in Sherr’s biography is Dr. Sally Ride’s ability to inspire. So, why not give children and grandchildren a little inspiration? c/w

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