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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

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Sally Ride Interview (page: 5 / 6)

First American Woman in Space

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  Sally Ride

What was your reaction when you learned you would be the first American woman in space?

Sally Ride: I was ecstatic. I was thrilled, and my first reaction was probably identical to the reaction of the other four members of the crew who were told that same day. We could not believe that we got our chance to go into space. We were the first four from our astronaut class to get to go, and so we had been in training for four years at that time, building up to this point, and the moment that we were told, it was, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe that I get a chance to do this." And it was only after that, not long after that, but after that, that I thought, "Oh my gosh, I am going to be the first woman to get to go up, representing this country."

[ Key to Success ] Passion

How much pressure is there, not just on you as a woman, but on any astronaut put in that position, being tapped to go into space?

Sally Ride: There's a huge amount of pressure on every astronaut, because when you get right down to it, the experiments that are conducted on a space flight, or the satellites that are carried up, the work that's to be done, is important and expensive work, and you are up there for a week or two on a Space Shuttle flight. The country has invested a lot of money in you and your training, and the Space Shuttle and everything that's in it, and you have to do things correctly. You can't make a mistake during that week or two that you're in space. Anything from making a mistake on an experiment that would ruin some scientist on earth's experiment -- career, potentially -- to doing something wrong with the satellite that a country was depending on for its communications, to making some mistake that could actually cost you and the crew either a mission or your lives. So there is a lot of pressure that's put on every astronaut to just make sure that he or she understands exactly what to do, exactly when to do it, and is trained and prepared to carry it out.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You were able to handle that pressure. It sounds like a lot of pressure.

Sally Ride Interview Photo
Sally Ride: It was a lot of pressure, but it was worth every second of it.

How do you deal with it?

Sally Ride: I didn't think so much about the pressure. I thought that if I focused on being as prepared as I could, and being as prepared as I thought I needed to be, then I would be able to handle it, I would be able to handle the tasks, and that kind of takes care of the pressure automatically.

You must have been asked this a thousand times, but what is it like up there in space? What were you thinking when you weren't entirely preoccupied with experiments?

Sally Ride: It's absolutely unbelievable, and unfortunately, indescribable.

The view of earth is absolutely spectacular, and the feeling of looking back and seeing your planet as a planet is just an amazing feeling. It's a totally different perspective, and it makes you appreciate, actually, how fragile our existence is. You can look at earth's horizon and see this really, really thin royal blue line right along the horizon, and at first you don't really quite internalize what that is, and then you realize that it's earth's atmosphere, and that that's all there is of it, and it's about as thick as the fuzz on a tennis ball, and it's everything that separates us from the vacuum of space. If we didn't have that atmosphere, we wouldn't be here, and if we do anything to destroy that atmosphere, we won't be here. So it really puts the planet in perspective.

You flew Challenger I and Challenger II. I remember the day that Challenger III exploded. I am sure you do too. What was going through your mind then?

Sally Ride: It was a blow both professionally, as you can imagine, to everyone in the astronaut corps, but also personally.

Four of the astronauts who were killed in the Challenger explosion were part of our group of 35 astronauts, part of that astronaut class. So, these were people that, at that time, I had known for eight years. I'd worked with them every day, I'd gone to dinner at their houses, I knew their families. So they were very, very close, close friends. My then husband had been on the flight before the Challenger accident, and I was scheduled to go about two months after the Challenger accident. So it hit me very personally, just to lose friends and to think about what might have been. Of course, it was a huge blow professionally, because I think that astronauts understand very well what the risks are of flying in space, but we all also have a real trust and faith in NASA, and the process that it goes through to minimize those risks to the extent possible, and as the investigation unfolded, it became very clear that that system had broken down, and that that system that we trusted to track down any flaw or any piece of bad test data really had failed.

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