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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
Sally Ride
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Sally Ride Interview (page: 6 / 6)

First American Woman in Space

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Sally Ride Interview Photo
Having had this extraordinary experience, what was life like after space?

Sally Ride: Well, there is life after NASA. One of the things that I realized while I was in the astronaut corps, and after I had been on my second flight, was how much I really did love science and physics. I had known, even when I went into the astronaut corps, that I would leave someday. NASA's model is astronauts leave after about seven years, and then go on with their lives. That is how they model their recruiting efforts. I had planned to go back into physics and to become a physicist, and after five or six years in the astronaut corps, I realized that that was important to me. I had actually planned to leave NASA after my third flight, which I never had an opportunity to take because of the Challenger accident, but I had planned to go back into academia, into physics research and physics teaching. So it was almost as if that phase of my life had come to a conclusion. I was ready to move on at that time.

There's an old joke, "It doesn't take a rocket scientist." But what does it take to be a rocket scientist?

Sally Ride: It takes the same thing that it takes to be a lot of different things. It takes a love of the subject and it takes a willingness to put in the time to learn the subject and to really be able to make a contribution.

It must be harder than that.

Sally Ride: Ah, not really.

You have concentrated on several different things since then, but one of them is to make what you have done seem more accessible to young women.

Sally Ride: Yeah, that's absolutely right.

In the years since my flight, I had the opportunity to talk to lots and lots and lots of groups, including elementary school kids, high school kids, college students, women's groups, and what I realized in doing that was that there were a lot of young girls and young women who were very, very interested in science, just like I was when I was growing up, and that that number, the number of those girls was rather large in elementary school. In fact, it seemed to be that about the same number of girls as boys showed an interest in the space program, in science, but that by the time they got to high school and college, if I would go to talk to a physics class, I would see that the number of women in the class was not that much more than when I was in college. A little bit better, but not that much more, so it was really clear that the pipeline was leaking more girls than boys, all the way from elementary school through college, and I came to appreciate that the reasons are primarily societal.

The girls in elementary school are as good at math and science as the boys, the test scores show that. There have been surveys. A 1996 survey of fourth graders asked a bunch of questions, including, "Do you like science?" Sixty-eight percent of fourth grade boys said they liked science, 66 percent of fourth grade girls say they like science. So in fourth grade, it's the same number of boys and girls. Then we start losing both boys and girls, but we lose girls disproportionately all the way through, and it starts right around fourth or fifth grade.

I decided that it was worth my time to try to have some impact on that, and try to, first, help change the culture and make the culture realize that the girls are out there, that if we want scientists and engineers in the future, we should be cultivating the girls as much as the boys, and that we needed to be able to give girls in middle school, high school and college the same opportunities that we give to boys. So I have put in a lot of time creating programs for girls, particularly in middle school, to just keep them engaged and introduce them to role models, show them that whether they want to be a rocket scientist or a geochemist or a microbiologist, that there are women who are now actively involved in those careers and who love what they do. I think it's slowly but surely having an impact.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

In terms of a career, in terms of doing what you want to do, do you think it's important to take risks along the way?

Sally Ride: Yeah, I think it is.

I have been a bit of a risk taker all my life, not always in the traditional way of defining risks, but when I was growing up, it was probably risky for a young girl to decide to be a scientist. It was probably, even when I was in college, risky for a female college graduate to go on to graduate school in physics, and certainly going on to be an astronaut was taking a risk. But I think that it is important to be willing to take that step, to kind of make that leap to do what you want to do, and that is my definition of being a risk taker.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

How do you measure achievement?

Sally Ride Interview Photo
Sally Ride: I actually measure it by personal satisfaction. I measure it by my own standards and my own goals, and whether I think that I have lived up to what I want to be doing in a particular day or a particular week or a particular year. At any one time, I have a pretty good idea of what I want to be doing in my life today and tomorrow, not necessarily five years from now, but today and tomorrow I have a good idea of what I want to be doing, and it's my own sense of accomplishment, my own internal measure, that I think gives me the measure of achievement. If I think I've accomplished what I set out to accomplish, then that's achievement.

When bright young students come to you seeking advice, what do you say to them?

Sally Ride: Why are you talking to me? Actually, the best advice I can give anybody is to try to understand who you are and what you want to do, and don't be afraid to go down that road and do whatever it takes and work as hard as you have to work to achieve that.

Looking ahead into the 21st century, what are your greatest concerns? What do you think our greatest problems are in America or the world?

Sally Ride: The world has no shortage of problems, but I think that one that is becoming clearer and clearer to us now is the global environment and how we are having an impact on the global environment, and I think that my perspective from space has given me perhaps a unique perspective on this problem. It's the only planet we've got, and you can see the effect of humanity when you look back at earth from space. You can see it in a lot of different areas. You can see smog over the cities, you can see pollution in the water. Our satellites can measure differences in the atmosphere, and it's starting to accumulate to a point that we may not be able to correct the problem if we don't do something about it pretty soon.

That is one of the things that concerns me most over the next several decades.

How would you like to be remembered? What is the legacy of Sally Ride?

Sally Ride: I would like to be remembered as someone who was not afraid to do what she wanted to do, and as someone who took risks along the way in order to achieve her goals.

Terrific. Is there anything more you want to say?

Sally Ride: Not a thing.

You have been great. We appreciate it.

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