When I was 9, my fourth-grade teacher said we could do a report on anyone in American history, so I picked five women: Dolly Madison, Betsy Ross, Martha Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt and Sally Ride. My mom definitely inspired the first three–she’s a Revolutionary War buff–but I picked the last two. I wrote my report from my mom’s set of encyclopedias (kids: “encyclopedias” are like the internet, only heavier and smelling more like a basement), and when it came to cover Sally Ride, I found…. nothing. I went to the library. Nothing. The high school library: nada.
This was before I knew to check periodicals, in which I could’ve found all that I needed about the first American woman in space, but instead, I had one piece of information: Sally Ride was the first American woman to go to space. Not enough for a report, so I think had to pick someone else. I say “think” because I don’t remember who I picked; whoever it was was probably not nearly as awesome as the first American woman in space. (And big ups to Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, who came before her. Two points on that: 1) The Soviets put TWO women in space before we got around to it. And 2) Is there a rule that, in order to be a woman in space, you have to have a fantastic name like Valentina, Svetlana, or Sally Ride?)
I turned in the report, decorated with an American flag on the front, and was bitterly disappointed that I couldn’t include Sally Ride. How on earth could a woman be an astronaut and the books not have ANY information about her? HOW?
Fortunately, in the intervening years we’ve had the internet, where you can get everything you need within a reasonable degree of accuracy. We’re not talking launching into orbit, after all; we’re talking just a general “who was she?” And even after thirty years, it turns out we didn’t know everything there was to know about her, because after she died yesterday at age 61, of pancreatic cancer, her family announced that since 1985, she’d been in a long-term relationship with Dr. Tam O’Shaugnessy, a woman. This news horrifies me to some extent: an American hero, who was my own hero for some time, didn’t want anyone to know she was in a loving relationship. By all accounts she was “intensely private,” and while I respect her decision and the difficulties coming out might have caused during her career, I’m so saddened that only in death can her love be celebrated. Other women get their marriage announcements in the NYTimes style section. Hers appeared in the obituaries.
Sally, I would’ve loved you anyway; we all would have. Thank you for your strength, bravery and your lifelong dedication to education (http://sallyridescience.com).
Because this is slumberpartymovies.com, I have to share a clip from the ill-timed but otherwise totally radical Spacecamp, in which Sally Ride is portrayed by Kate Capshaw. I don’t know if I ever watched it at a slumber party, but I know I was in love with Tate Donovan. I wanted to include the scene where John Glenn winks, but all I could find on youtube was the launch. (Watching this again: who the hell names a ship “Atlantis”? Why not name it “Titanic”?)