A modern pioneer

Like many people, I was stunned by the recent passing of Dr. Sally Ride. Although she was 61 when she passed away, she accomplished very much during her lifetime.

The obvious accomplishment was that she was the first woman to go into space. The decision to open up the application process at NASA in 1977 grabbed her attention, and she was among the 8,000 people who wanted the chance to go into orbit. I’ve never heard her or anyone else say this, but that extremely large applicant pool–NASA’s never had anywhere near that number since then–had to be aided, to some extent, by a movie named Star Wars that was released in May of 1977. If nobody who applied to become an astronaut in 1977 had seen the movie first, well, I apologize for floating the theory. But it seems like a reasonable enough correlation to me.

Of the 8,000 NASA applicants, Sally Ride was one of the 35 who were selected to be a part of the new Space Shuttle program. And her trip into space in 1983, around the time that I was starting high school, made her into a national celebrity. She doubtlessly inspired others to follow her path into space, as well. That, all by itself, would make hers a life worth noting.

But she didn’t stop there. She also founded Sally Ride Science, which was meant to make science fun to students in school. I never liked science, and did everything I could to keep my distance from it when I was young. But Sally Ride’s company strove to change that, and it was successful if even one student was steered in the direction of thinking about science in a new light. I have to believe that it was far more than just one student who was impacted by her efforts, though. I’m certain that the benefits of her efforts will be felt for decades to come.

And in death, Sally Ride became a pioneer in another way, which most people probably didn’t see coming. By acknowledging that she had a partner, she posthumously added her name, and the weight of her accomplishments, to the LGBT community. It was a very courageous thing for her and her partner to do, and its social impact will be felt far and wide.

Since California recently, and amid much controversy, changed their school curriculum to include the study of contributions made by LGBT individuals, I suggest that Sally Ride should be included as Exhibit A. While she deserves to be remembered for her accomplishments as an astronaut and an educator, her personal life doesn’t add or detract from her accomplishments in the least. But it’s a part of her life’s story that going to be difficult, if not impossible, to leave out going forward.

I applaud Sally Ride for the legacy that she leaves behind in space travel, science education, and social relations. Overlooking or ignoring her accomplishments would be an injustice, and is something that will not happen, at least in this little corner of the internet.

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