Saturday, July 28, 2012

Astronaut Sally Ride inspired young women

From HeraldOnline:  Astronaut Sally Ride inspired young women

America’s first female astronaut was a positive role model for many young people.

Sally Ride, who died Monday at age 61, probably could have been a success at just about any career path she took. But as she herself noted, all she wanted to do was fly, to soar into space, float around weightless, look out at the heavens and back at Earth.

About the only way to accomplish that goal was to become an astronaut. And as it happened, Ride found herself at the perfect juncture in history to make her dream come true.

She was finishing studies at Stanford University – earning degrees in physics and astrophysics, and English, with a specialty in Shakespeare. NASA was recruiting astronauts, with the unstated goal of bringing women on board.

Ride filled out an application she saw in a newspaper and was accepted into the program. Her educational background was a big factor, but so was a demeanor that allowed her to keep cool under pressure and weather the inevitable skepticism about sending women into space.

It is hard to comprehend three decades after her first ride aboard the shuttle Challenger how unusual it was for a woman to be admitted to the macho fraternity of NASA astronauts.

In those days, allowing women to take on jobs that were both dangerous and physically demanding was rare.
At the time, there were no female fighter pilots in the Air Force.

But Ride, as part of her NASA training, not only learned to fly a jet but also trained in parachute jumping, water survival and acclimatization to weightlessness and the massive G-forces of a rocket launch.
Before her first liftoff, reporters asked her questions that would be unthinkable today: Did she plan to wear a bra and makeup in space? Did she cry on the job? Would space flight affect her ability to have children?
The task of a pioneer blazing a new trail can be difficult. But, apparently for Ride, the payoff was worth it.
She not only became an astronaut, but she also was able to use her physics and engineering skills to help develop a robotic arm for the shuttle. And she got to test it on her first shuttle flight.
In the process of pursuing her dream, Ride also served as an inspiration and role model to a new generation of girls. That, in effect, became her life’s work.

After retiring from NASA in 1987, she took science-related jobs at Stanford and the University of California, San Diego. But she was driven to instill a love of science, technology and math in young people, especially young girls.

In 2001, she started a company, Sally Ride Science, to “make science and engineering cool again,” as she put it.

She also wrote six science books for children.

Ride, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer, will forever hold a place in history as the first American woman to show young girls that they could look at the heavens and say to themselves, “I can go there.”

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