“During her sixty-one years on the planet – minus 343 hours, 47 minutes, 32 seconds in space – she joined, then helped lead, the boldest steps yet taken to explore and protect the big blue marble that is our home.”
Even if I woke up tomorrow morning and was 60 pounds lighter with a complete understanding of astrophysics I would not want to go to space. While I have no desires to go to space it has nothing to do with not being allowed (except they don’t typically encourage overweight personal shoppers to embark on space travel) to entertain the idea based on my gender. And that is thanks to Sally Ride who rocketed through the glass ceiling about 5 years before I was born.
But even though I have no interest in travelling to space I do enjoy reading about astronauts and their experiences. Sally Ride had a complex and private life which Lynn Sherr does her best to convey to the reader. Sherr was a friend of Sally’s from the beginning of her career with NASA and was asked by Sally’s partner to properly memorialize the First American Woman in Space. I think Sally’s story would have been better served by someone who didn’t have a personal relationship with the subject though.
Sally Ride was a California girl who gave up a chance to play pro tennis in favor of an academic career in Math and Science. History was changed after Sally read an article at Stanford about NASA’s decision to allow for female astronaut candidates. Sally was an ideal candidate for the program and was eventually selected to be the first American woman in space. While she was warned that being the first in anything comes with extra attention she accepted the job and performed admirably. However, she struggled with the fame and often tried to get out of speaking engagements which frustrated some people.
So let’s get the elephant in the room out in the open. It was discovered, following Ride’s death in 2012, that Sally had been in a same sex relationship for the last 27 years that no one knew about. Sherr was unaware that her friend was a lesbian and it completely absorbs the whole narrative! I really wish her life story had been given to more capable hands- or at least someone less focused on who she was sleeping with.
But Sally didn’t even tell her sister (who was also a lesbian) that she was in a same sex relationship for 20 years so Sherr wasn’t the only person left in the dark. She just seemed to care the most. Regardless of how explosive this revelation was it wasn’t everything Sally was about but her sexuality was mentioned every few paragraphs it seemed. Also, there is almost no discussion about how Sally was cheating on her husband for two years before she finally divorced him. She didn’t even tell him she was leaving him for a woman; he thought they were getting divorced because she didn’t want to stay at NASA after Challenger!
Anyway, after investigating the Challenger explosion in 1986 Sally left NASA to teach in San Diego before starting Sally Ride Science with her partner, Tam. While Sally had no ambitions to be a mother she spent her whole career working with children, particularly young girls, in hopes of getting them more excited about STEM. Her pioneering flight and all the resources she developed for young scientist forever changed the heavens.
But Sally was a frustrating person to read about. Her desire for privacy was almost crippling and I really felt for Tam, an equally intelligent, capable partner who was relegated to the background of their quarter century together. While I disagreed with a lot of Sally’s choices (always difficult when they were real world decisions with real world consequences) I have a newfound respect for her and all her achievements.