“What’s it like to be in space?” “Is it scary?” Is it cold?” “Do you have trouble sleeping?”
These are the first sentences from a wonderful book that astronaut Sally Ride wrote in 1986 with her childhood friend, Dr. Susan Oakie, who once was a medical reporter for The Washington Post.
Everyone always has tons of questions about what it feels like to be in space and Ride and Oakie’s book, titled To Space & Back, was written to give children a sense of what it feels like to circle the Earth, experience being weightless and even how you go to the bathroom in space.
Ride, 61, will always be remembered for being the first American woman to travel into outer space, and sadly she died yesterday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
“When I was growing up (in Los Angeles), I was always fascinated by the planets, stars and galaxies, but I never thought about becoming an astronaut,” Ride writes. “I studied math and science in high school, and then I spent my years in college learning physics — the study of the laws of nature and the universe. Just as I was finishing my education, NASA, the United States space agency, began looking for scientists who wanted to become astronauts. Suddenly I knew that I wanted a chance to see the earth and stars from outer space. I sent my application to NASA, and after a series of tests and interviews, I was chosen to be an astronaut.”
Ride makes the process of becoming an woman astronaut seem so simple and straightforward but we know it wasn’t; especially for a woman competing in the macho male world of jet pilots. Ride was a capsule communicator on two space shuttle flights and also helped design the robot arm that was used in the Space Shuttle for scientific experiments and other projects that involved placing satellites into orbit or pulling satellites out of orbit.
How many little girls Ride may have inspired to follow her in the fields of space, science and math, we’ll never know. But she did something no other woman had done before and that’s a remarkable distinction. NASA’s space program no longer exists today due to budgetary cuts and two unthinkable Space Shuttle explosions but when the space program operated at it’s peak, it was incredibly exciting and people like Sally Ride made us think anything was possible.
“All adventures — especially into new territory — are scary, and there has always been an element of danger in space flight. I wanted to be an astronaut because I thought it would be a challenging opportunity,” Ride says in To Space & Back. “It was; it was also an experience that I shall never forget.”