26 May 2015

A Ride For Sally

When we're young, it's difficult and even hurtful to learn that people we admired--whether celebrities or family members, teachers or others in our everyday lives--are, well, people.  We might find out that our favorite actor, writer, athlete, aunt or uncle did immoral or even illegal things.  Sometimes finding out the dark side of someone we took as a model for one aspect or another of our lives is painful even after we thought we'd "seen it all".

One celebrity about whom I never became disillusioned is Sally Ride.  In fact, I found myself admiring her even more as the years went by.  It seems that being the first American  woman in space was just one of many accomplishments in her life.  Few people have ever done more to encourage girls and young women to study math, science and technology--fields from which they were too often discouraged, dissuaded or even bullied out of studying or working.  

I think now of Sophie Germain, whose parents took away her clothes--and heat and light at night--in an attempt to stop her from studying mathematics, which was deemed inappropriate for a "proper" young lady.  I also think, in this vein, about 1977 Nobel Laureate Rosalyn Sussman Yalow, whose parents wanted her to get a college education but protested when she decided to study Physics on the grounds that "no man would want to marry" her.  

If Dr. Ride faced such opposition from her family or anyone else, she never let on.  In fact, she did not let on much about her personal life, including her relatively brief marriage to a man and her later, much longer partnership with a woman.  Most people did not know about those things until they read her obituary three years ago.

Whatever the circumstances of her life, she understood the difficulties young women and girls faced--and still face--in pursuing STEM careers.  So, she did everything she could to help them--and their teachers, who sometimes were not confident of their own abilities to encourage their students in those areas.

Here she is helping a student understand some of the principles of gyroscopic motion with--what else?--a bicycle wheel:

She would have been 64 years old today. If I could be in Northern Virginia two weeks from now and I were still racing, I'd take part in the Ride Sally Ride.


  1. Just a wee correction. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Valentina Tereshkova went into orbit for the Soviet Union in 1963.

  2. MT--Thanks for pointing that out. I will correct the post.