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If you like Sally Ride's story, you might also like:
Elizabeth Blackburn,
Linda Buck,
Sylvia Earle,
Gertrude Elion,
Daniel J. Goldin,
Jane Goodall,
Dorothy Hamill,
Susan Hockfield,
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Paul MacCready,
John Mather,
Story Musgrave,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Donna Shirley,
Alan Shepard,
Clyde Tombaugh
and Chuck Yeager

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Sally Ride Interview

First American Woman in Space

June 2, 2006
Los Angeles, California

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  Sally Ride

To begin at the beginning, what was your childhood like, growing up in Southern California?


Sally Ride: Well, my childhood was probably the typical childhood for a kid growing up in Southern California in the '50s and early '60s. I loved being outside, I loved being active. I loved swimming, I loved playing tennis, I loved playing baseball in the street, and as it turns out, I also liked science and math, and I was probably fortunate in that both of my parents really valued education and they didn't have any sort of preconception on what sort of field I should go into. So they made sure that I spent plenty of time studying, but also trying to make it fun and trying to make it entertaining and trying to make me appreciate that it was a good way to get ahead in the world.


Were there a lot of preconceptions in that era about what you should be doing?


Sally Ride: There were a lot of preconceptions back then. I think that, whether in sports or whether in career choice, there were definitely preconceptions that girls didn't participate in sports other than swimming and tennis and golf. They probably didn't like them, or they would probably get hurt playing them or something, and that women didn't go on to become lawyers or doctors, much less scientists or engineers, and my parents, I think, were unusual in that they didn't hold those preconceptions.


Were you a good kid?

Sally Ride: I was a pretty good kid. I had my moments, but I was a pretty good kid.

How did you like school when you were growing up?

Sally Ride Interview Photo
Sally Ride: I liked some classes, I didn't like others. I looked forward to getting out of school every day, and getting onto the playground or getting home to play with my friends, but I didn't really mind going to school as much as some of my classmates did and as much as a lot of kids do.

What was difficult for you growing up?

Sally Ride: If you want to talk about school, history and English were difficult for me, science and math were easy. I was a quiet kid when I was growing up, and so I didn't really like to be called on in class. I think that my most stressful moments were probably sitting in class, huddled down, hoping that the teacher didn't notice me and call on me. Whether I knew the answer or not, that was irrelevant.

How do you account for that?

Sally Ride: I have no idea whether I am an introvert by nature or whether it was something to do with the times when I was growing up. Who knows? It was definitely true while I was in elementary school and middle school and even a little bit into high school.

In your recollection, were there teachers or books or events that inspired you or challenged you when you were growing up, that were important to you in one way or another?

Sally Ride: There were teachers along the way. I can think of three teachers that were very influential, and there were some events that were very influential.


I was growing up in the early days of the space program, and I can still remember teachers wheeling those big old black and white television sets into the classroom, so that we could watch some of the early space launches and splashdowns, and that made a real impact on me, as I think it did a lot of kids growing up at the time. I thought a lot about what it would be like to be on a rocket and what it would be like to be in space when I was 12 years old.

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Were any of your girlfriends thinking about those things?

Sally Ride: It's interesting. I think a lot were. A lot of my girlfriends liked science as much as I did, especially at age 8, 9, 10, 11. We were all fascinated by the space program in one way or another, but I think that most of my friends ran into some obstacle or deterrent along the way that sent them off in different directions. It might have been a teacher, it might have been a counselor, it might have been a parent, it might have been a peer group. I was probably very fortunate not to run into those deterrents while I was impressionable and growing up.

What was it about these three teachers that you remember?


Sally Ride: The two who were most influential were high school science teachers. One taught physiology and one taught chemistry, and what was so important to me was not that they were good science teachers, they were, but I had plenty of other good teachers growing up. What was important to me was that they helped me build my confidence in myself, my self-esteem, and I needed that like lots of kids need it, and they basically said, "Look, you know, if you were good in math in sixth grade, you are going to be good in math in 12th grade, you are going to be good in math in college. You don't get dumber as you get older," and I needed to hear that and just have that confidence in myself that yes, I was smart enough to go on to college, and smart enough to go on and do whatever I was interested in, in college.


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This page last revised on Mar 04, 2011 18:27 EDT