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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,
Meave Leakey,
Paul MacCready,
John Mather,
Story Musgrave,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Donna Shirley,
Alan Shepard,
Clyde Tombaugh
and Chuck Yeager

Related Links:
Sally Ride Science
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Sally Ride
 
Sally Ride
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Sally Ride Interview (page: 3 / 6)

First American Woman in Space

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  Sally Ride

Was there a moment, an epiphany, a flash of lightning, when you decided what you wanted to do with your life?

Sally Ride: Once I went back to Stanford I was pretty committed to being a physics major. I was certain that I wanted to be a research scientist, a professor, and that physics was my field. So I was really set on that path through undergraduate school. I stayed at Stanford for graduate school in physics, loved it.


I was literally just a couple of months away from getting my Ph.D. in physics when I saw, believe it or not, an ad in the Stanford student newspaper, that had been put in the newspaper by NASA, saying that they were accepting applications for astronauts, and the moment I saw that, I knew that that's what I wanted to do. Not that I wanted to leave physics, I loved it, but I wanted to apply to the astronaut corps and see whether NASA would take me, and see whether I could have the opportunity to go on that adventure.

[ Key to Success ] Passion


Had they ever taken a woman?

Sally Ride: They had never taken a woman. One of the reasons that they were putting ads in student newspapers was that, first of all, they hadn't taken any astronauts in about 10 years, so they needed to get the word out. More importantly, it was the first time they were planning to bring women into the astronaut corps, and they knew that unless they put announcements in places that qualified women would see them, they would get just the usual suspects of white male military test pilots applying to the program. So this was the first time that they were bringing in women.

Had you ever flown anything before?


Sally Ride: I had never flown anything, not a thing. I had flown in very large airplanes, but I had never flown anything. But NASA was looking for -- you know, the astronaut corps at that time was still primarily test pilots, but they had some scientists in the corps, and they had made it clear that with the Space Shuttle program, they actually needed an astronaut corps that was more than 50 percent scientists and engineers, less than 50 percent test pilots, so they made it very, very clear that they wanted people with science and engineering backgrounds, and that the test pilot or even a pilot background was not required, they'd teach us everything we needed to know about that.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


What were the odds of your being selected for that program?

Sally Ride: They were pretty darned small. There were about 8,000 of us who applied, and out of that, NASA picked 35 of us to be the first Space Shuttle astronaut class.

And you were the young woman who did not want to be called on in class?

Sally Ride: Exactly! Yes! And who has since had to learn how to do television interviews.

Were you surprised to be chosen?


Sally Ride: I was surprised to be chosen. I was fairly certain that I would make it a reasonably long way in the selection process, because I was pretty well qualified to apply. I was going to have a Ph.D. by the time the selection process was over, and I had a good athletic background, which NASA -- they don't necessarily look for an athletic background, but they look for a variety of different backgrounds that show that you have got a variety of interests and particularly showed that you can collaborate well with people, work as part of a team, communicate with people. So I knew that I had a reasonable chance to go a reasonable distance in the selection process, but I didn't think for a minute that I was going to be selected.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation


Was it tougher for a woman in that first class that accepted women?


Sally Ride: It was tougher for a woman, but the reason was really the surrounding culture at the time, the culture at NASA, at the Johnson Space Center, and also the culture in the country. It wasn't more difficult, interestingly, within the astronaut office itself, the women and men. First of all, the group of 35 of us who were selected included six women, so not just one but six, a little bit of security in numbers, and the 29 men who were selected as part of that group were actually accustomed to working with women. One had had a Ph.D. thesis adviser who was a female physics professor, so they were not unaccustomed to the concept. So we had a peer group that was very supportive and didn't think that it was that unusual. However, our whole group was set into this culture where it was very unusual. Out of roughly 4,000 technical employees at the Johnson Space Center -- 4,000 or so scientists and engineers -- I think there were only four women, so that gives you a sense of how male the culture was. When we arrived, we more than doubled the number of women with Ph.D.s at the center.


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