July 24, 2012
Some people are very vocal leaders, while others let their work do the talking. Sally Ride was mostly the latter, one of many humble space pioneers in our history.
I'm of the age that I don't recall NASA before female astronauts were a thing. I honestly can't remember any space news before the Challenger explosion. I was nearing the ripe old age of 6 that day, the age of my oldest nephew now. So it is a little hard to respect how much of a pioneer she was, probably like how my nephews will have the same difficulty grasping the U.S. before a black president.
But one way I have learned to appreciate her pioneering as a female astronaut is through watching old space documentaries and movies such as "Apollo 13." When the news stories talk about NASA being a boys club in the pre-shuttle days, this was no exaggeration. It was just a different time.
If you have Netflix, you should check out the documentary "When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions." It's a six-part series narrated by Lt. Dan himself, Gary Sinise, who also played Ken Mattingly in "Apollo 13." During the missions leading up to the moon landing, you see all men in MIssion Control. When you see later footage during such things as the Hubble Space Telescope repair and the 2003 Columbia disaster, the makeup of the staff is very different. It was because of people like Sally Ride who had the courage to make it in a male-dominated field.
Then after her death, it was revealed in a statement from Sally Ride Science that she had been involved in a same-sex partnership for 27 years.
As I said in the opening, some people lead vocally, others are less so. Neil Armstrong likes to keep mostly private. "When We Left Earth" is one of the few documentaries in which I have seen him interviewed. Buzz Aldrin, on the other hand, has written a few books and even played a fictional version of himself in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."
It's kind of nice to see pioneers taking different paths like that. It's another way of humanizing the "just like us" component because some of us 7 billion humans are more vocal than others.
It's a shame that cancer claimed another brilliant person so early in life, just 61 years old. But in those 61 years, Sally Ride provided all of us a great example on how to leave a lasting legacy on Earth -- and a couple hundred miles above.
Michael Buckelew is a contributing writer for the Gwinnett Daily Post.
In response to:
Sally Ride, who blazed trails into orbit as the first American woman in space, died Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.