The First American Feminist in Space
Dr. Sally K. Ride was an American astronaut and the first
American woman in space. She was born on May 26, 1951 to parents Dale and Carol
Ride. Dr. Ride’s father was a considerably progressive man; however, her mother
was a hardcore feminist. She read Ms. Magazine as soon as it was available in
the 1970s and believed that women could and should do anything that they wanted
to (Bilger, 2014). As a teenager, Ride was very
fond of sports and even started playing tennis in the 1960s, which also happen
to be when a large portion of women’s sports issues were emerging. The Women’s
Tennis Association was founded and fought for equality at this time and was
located not far from Dr. Ride’s childhood home (Bilger, 2014). While she
gravitated toward the scientific field of work during her junior high and high
school years, Dr. Ride never planned to be an astronaut, saying, ”I guess if you had asked me when I was 10
years old whether I wanted to be an astronaut, I would have said yes” (Stevens,
1982). After high school, Dr. Ride went to Stanford University and earned
several degrees in physics. Yet, flying into space never became a tangible
possibility until her final few weeks at Stanford. In the local newspaper,
there was an advertisement for NASA. They were taking applications for astronaut
training, but even though a long list of qualifications followed, Dr. Ride
recalled, ”I looked at the list of credentials, I’m one of those people” (Stevens,
On June 18, 1983, Ride made her renowned flight into space.
Her job was to work as a flight engineer, an assistant to the pilot and
co-pilot while the Challenger was entering and leaving orbit, and during
landing. While the space shuttle was in orbit, Dr. Ride acted as a mission
specialist and was in charge the main mission tasks. On this particular
mission, the deployment of two communications satellites via operation of a
giant robotic arm was the main objective but there were also several other
scientific experiments (Dunbar, 2015). Ride retired from NASA in 1987.
Afterwards, she started teaching at the University of California in San Diego.
It was at this time that Dr. Ride came up with the idea for NASA’s EarthKAM
project, which allows middle school students to use a camera on the
International Space Station to take pictures of Earth. In 2003, nine years before
her death, Dr. Sally Ride was inducted into NASA’s “Astronaut Hall of Fame,” which
honors astronauts for their great achievements (Dunbar, 2015).
Question 2: Experiences with Gender-Biases and Sex Discrimination
As Dr. Ride’s life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, states in an
interview after Dr. Ride’s death in 2012, there are obstacles that have to be
overcome by almost anybody. While most are tamer and less challenging, there
are still “deeply embedded challenges that are part of our culture.”
O’Shaughnessy states, “It’s more kosher for a boy to say he wants to be an
engineer than a girl” (Bilger, 2014).
While Dr. Ride did face many challenges that her male
co-workers did not, few of them were hard fought or jeopardized her flight.
During a news conference before the launch, many questions directed at her were
explicitly about being the first American women in space. Dr. Ride dealt with
these questions very carefully, and even humorously. In fact, after being asked
if she cried whenever faced with some frustrating tasks, Dr. Ride simply asked
why they don’t ask any of her male counterparts these questions (Granath,