Fly on, Sally Ride… (1951-2012)

 

My most vivid and enduring memories are of intensely emotional experiences. Among these memories is my recollection of the first time I saw Sally Ride in person.

It was at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where she appeared to speak with the media after her flight on the 1983 Space Shuttle mission STS-7. I was covering the event as editor of Space Business News. I recall that her husband and fellow astronaut Steve Hawley was on stage with her. I can’t recall whether the rest of the crew of STS-7 was there as well. The spotlight was on her….

What I do remember clearly is that, in the course of responding to questions about her status as the first U.S. female astronaut to fly in space, she said something to the effect that she owed a debt to the women’s movement for helping her to be where she was that day.

I surprised myself by tearing up over that remark, and I remember having a hard time calming myself down. (Journalists aren’t supposed to get emotional about their stories, for pete’s sake….)

I was born just 25 days before Sally Ride. We grew up in very different circumstances, though in the same era of 1960s second-wave feminism. Most young women coming of age at that time and choosing to travel down non-traditional pathways – that is, anything other than marriage, motherhood, teaching, or nursing – would have to deal with social barriers to their progress along the way. Whatever barriers Ride may have encountered, she apparently ignored them, and thank goodness for that.

Yet Ride appeared to understand that the women’s movement had provided an invisible hand to help push her along her path. This is what made me cry, and it’s what makes me remember that moment today.

I’ve been an “out” feminist since I learned what feminism was, back in the ‘60s. I knew that while we women had to make the best of our own skills and strengths, we also had to stick together and help each other out along the way. My network of female colleagues and friends in the aerospace community has been, and still is, invaluable to me as a source of guidance, encouragement, affirmation, and support.

I did not have the privilege of knowing Sally Ride. I had a brief conversation with her once, at some Washington networking event. I hope I remembered to tell her how much I admired her. Though we had no personal connection, I’d like to remember her as an honorary member of my invaluable women’s support network.

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