Saturday, 26 July 2014

The Right Stuff

Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

It seems appropriate for two reasons to be reading the biography of Sally Ride at the moment.

July 20th saw the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing by Armstrong and Aldrin (supported by Michael Collins) and this coming weekend is when Norwich holds the city Pride celebrations.

NASA's first quarter century was full of firsts but flying women and non white men was not on the cards - it wasn't until the late 1970s that minorities and females were selected as potential astronaut candidates.

Ride was among this group and was selected to fly on STS-7 in 1983 to become the first American women to leave the planet (although the 3rd female in space). Return to earth left her as a celebrity and this continued after she flew for a second time and then after the Challenger disaster served on the panel investigating the tragedy.

After leaving NASA Ride, and her partner Tam, set up an incredible programme to encourage girls to become interested in science.  These initiative are not just for girls but they are all about making it normal for girls and women to be scientists. I was always lucky in that my family, and my school, always encouraged me to do what I wanted but this breaking down of barriers is great.  To see one of the amazing initiatives for middle school children have a look at EarthKAM.

While NASA had opened up enough to allow women and minorities to fly into space, sadly homophobia (real or perceived) kept Ride from publicly acknowledging much of her life, but now this is being rectified and the message of the book is that it is okay to be whatever and whoever you want.

Sherr, the author of the book, admits freely that as well as a journalist and biographer she was also Sally's friend and so there may be some bias in the book but for me the important thing is that the story is told and that girls continue to dream, to study and to experiment.

 STS-7 launch photo 1983 carrying 1st American female, Sally Ride, into space

Many thanks to the team at Space Lectures for letting me know about this title.

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