During a launching of NASA's Challenger in 1983, many in a crowd of a quarter-million people wore T-shirts proclaiming, "Ride, Sally Ride."
That she did.
Sally Ride died Monday after a 17-month struggle with pancreatic cancer. She was much too young at 61.
In this, a very harried news week - what with the Colorado horror and the Penn State fallout - it would be easy to gloss over the death of a true American pioneer. But we certainly can't let that happen.
While graduating from esteemed Stanford University, Ride saw a newspaper ad stating that NASA was accepting astronaut applications. She had the credentials: degrees in physics and astrophysics. She applied and was chosen for the space program.
It led to her becoming at the time the youngest NASA astronaut. And, most importantly, the first American woman to fly in space. She made history on June 18, 1983. She flew a second mission a year later. She later became the only person to sit on both panels investigating the tragic shuttle accidents that killed all astronauts on board - the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the Columbia crash in 2003. Later, Ride founded her own company, taught college physics and wrote five science books for children.?Throughout her life she taught young girls to not only look at the stars but to reach for them too.?
Ride's ascension into space - and history - had its share of bumps along the way. Here is an excerpt from the New York Times detailing struggles she confronted from those wanting to cast stereotypical imprints on her: "Before the first shuttle flight, Ride - chosen in part because she was known for keeping her cool under stress - politely endured reporters' asking whether spaceflight would affect her reproductive organs, whether she planned to have children, whether she would wear a bra or makeup in space, whether she cried on the job, how she would handle menstruation in space. The CBS News reporter Diane Sawyer asked her to demonstrate a newly installed privacy curtain around the shuttle's toilet. On The Tonight Show, Johnny Carson joked that the shuttle flight would be delayed because Ride had to find a purse to match her shoes."
Yes, can you believe that kind of narrow mind set against women existed less than three decades ago? Remarkable.
At a NASA news conference, Ride said: "It's too bad this is such a big deal. It's too bad our society isn't further along."
The Soviets had already sent two women into space. One was welcomed aboard a space station by a male cosmonaut who told her the kitchen and an apron were ready for her. An example that chauvinism is a global narrowmindedness.
She was "a national hero and a powerful role model," said President Barack Obama. "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars."
Both physically and mentally, traveling into space is beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of human beings. Still, many women could have become astronauts before Ride broke the barrier. What makes her a role model is her determination to do so - to never give up in a quest that defeats most, both male and female, who undertake it. In that, as well as her later life, Ride indeed was an inspiration for young people of both genders.
The day after the historic Challenger lift-off, women's liberation leader Gloria Steinem "Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists." Well put.
Who knows the incalculable number of young people - of both genders - that Sally Ride influenced? She was a true pioneer of the American spirit. She generated the resolve and wherewithal to reach her dreams while reaching for the stars. Just like a pioneer, just like a hero. Just like true challenger. The heavens welcome her.