Sally Ride

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

Influential Historical Figure

            Sally Ride was the first American woman astronaut to enter space. She was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles. Growing up there were few role models for Sally to model her future career after. She attended Stanford University where she graduated with a degree in physics and English. She continued her study of physics at Stanford and attained a Ph.D. in 1978. After her graduation she was selected from 1,000 other applicants for NASA’s astronaut program. While training in the program she faced criticism and sexism both from within NASA and from the media. She was one of only five women in the astronaut program. The rest of the future astronauts were men and typically ex-fighter pilots. Ride was not the first woman in space, two Russian women had achieved the feat before her, but the American press was uninterested in their accomplishment. The press began asking Ride and the other women now seemingly senseless questions like how they expected to go to the bathroom or merely function in space. Despite the questioning of her capabilities, she became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983.

            After the Challenger Explosion in 1986, Ride left NASA and started as the director of the California Space Institute at the University of California in San Diego. She was also a physics professor and later began her own company, Sally Ride Science, which created educational products and programs to inspire young women to pursue interests in science and math. Sally Ride died on July 23, 2012 after battling pancreatic cancer. She is survived by her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, another woman. It is unknown why Sally Ride decided to keep her sexuality a secret. Perhaps it was because she feared she would be unable to achieve her goals or simply because she felt like it wasn’t the public’s business. Regardless, Ride has become a role model for gay and straight women across the globe. Not only was she the first American woman in space but she was a champion for women’s education in math and science and, posthumously, a role model for LGBT youth.

            In the Bussey article, Social Cognitive Theory of Gender Development and Differentiation, Bussey cites the acquisition of gender conceptions and competencies to explain certain gendered activities. This means that children can learn certain gender stereotypes from observing the adults around them. Sally Ride essentially had no role models to inspire her to become an astronaut and it was uncommon for girls to be interested in math and science in the 1960s. She defied this stereotype and went on to achieve her goal of flying into space. In the Prentice and Carranza article, The Contents of Prescriptive Gender Stereotypes, they found that women were typically better liked when they fulfilled traditional gender stereotypes. Sally Ride may have fulfilled these stereotypes while she was alive but one she certainly broke was the heterosexual female role. Sally Ride may not have wanted to ruffle any investor’s in her company feathers, while she was alive, by coming out of the closet and breaking that stereotype.

            In summation, Sally Ride was and is a wonderful example to women, and men, that the stereotypes that society places upon us based on our gender can always be challenged and shattered through hard work, determination, and knowledge. Sally Ride changed the face of NASA because she became a role model to young women everywhere that women can do everything men can, including flying into orbit.