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Sally Ride

First American woman in space paves new paths

Sally Ride

Astronaut Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck of the Earth-orbiting space shuttle 'Challenger.' — Bettmann/Corbis

Ride served on the presidential commission headed by former Secretary of State William P. Rogers that investigated the Challenger accident. After the shuttle fleet was grounded, she was one of many astronauts who resigned from NASA. She took a two-year fellowship at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. In 1989, she became a physics professor and director of the University of California’s Space Institute at UC San Diego, where she became involved in educational projects with middle-school students.

But she wanted to start a program that was national in scope. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company that supports children’s interest in science, math and technology through its science fairs, camps, books and teacher training.

“We believe that science is fun, that kids, particularly in elementary school … enjoy science,” she said. “You really don’t need to convert kids to science, you just need to sustain the interest that they naturally have in science.”

Ride encourages parents and grandparents to take children to science centers and science activities, and to have the same expectations for girls as for boys.

Ride has written several children’s books about science, including Mission: Planet Earth. Sally Ride Science publishes a Cool Careers series of books, including Cool Careers in Space Sciences and Cool Careers in Math, aimed at fourth- through eighth-graders, which show men and women from diverse backgrounds working as scientists.

“It still is much more common for people to picture a scientist as a male and to maybe subtly, maybe even subconsciously, encourage young boys toward those careers more than young girls,” she said.

While several other big-name former astronauts have criticized President Obama’s plan to curtail NASA’s involvement in the low-Earth orbit business and refocus the agency on asteroid and Mars exploration, Ride is a supporter. Last summer, she was on a panel that looked at NASA’s human spaceflight program and recommended the private sector take over most low-Earth orbit transportation. “I think that by and large this is a plan that frees NASA to look toward the more challenging aspects of exploration beyond low-Earth orbit,” Ride said.

Married briefly to astronaut Steve Hawley in the 1980s, Ride never remarried and has no children. She lives in San Diego and enjoys running, frequent workouts and being outside. She gave up playing tennis when she was 25. “When I stopped playing competitive tennis,” she said laughing, “I wasn’t able to make the transition to play it for fun.”

Recently, Ride has been pictured in ads for Louis Vuitton with former astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin recalling their journeys in space.

Kitty Bennett is a news researcher and writer based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

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