May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012
My family has this theory that every time we go on vacation, something bad happens. Not to us, but to someone else. We were in Washington, D.C., when the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico occurred. Several times, we’ve been reading the paper while having breakfast at the hotel and discovered that there was an earthquake somewhere. So I joked as we headed out on our trip to Toronto that there would be another disaster. And there was, sort of. I don’t suppose it really counts as a disaster if only one person dies, but I was very sad when I heard that Sally Ride had died.
She was one of my favorite astronauts, along with Wendy B. Lawrence because I’ve met her, and Alan Bean because he is an excellent painter and one of the funniest astronauts. (Side note: Why haven’t more people heard of Bean? Although I only know about him because my brother used to be obsessed with space and I would read a lot of the books and watch a lot of the movies that he would.) Ride was not the first woman in outer space, but she was the first American woman in space. (Go, Russia!) She also holds the distinctions of being the youngest American astronaut launched into space, the first known gay astronaut, and the only person to serve on the investigation panels for the disasters of both Challenger and Columbia.
Several times, I’d thought about writing a letter to her, but I never got around to it. (Now I’ll make sure to write a letter to Terry Pratchett before he dies/goes completely wacky from Alzheimer’s, especially after I read this. Please, Pratchett, don’t go through with that! I want you to write more books!) I was going to ask her some serious things, like what did she like most about being in space and what qualifications are recommended to become an astronaut. I would also have asked her some trivial but still interesting questions, like had she ever read the Maximum Ride books by James Patterson, where the titular character names herself after the first American woman in space. Only about two weeks ago, I was thinking that maybe Sally Ride wasn’t so sick anymore and she could speak to Discoveries Unlimited. Sadly, now she never can. I realized when looking back at another post that around 16 months ago, the leaders of DU announced that they’d been told Sally Ride couldn’t visit us because she was very, very sick. I’d assumed that she had, I don’t know, a really bad cold or something, but then her obituaries said that she’d had pancreatic cancer for 17 months…
I admired Sally Ride, even if I never did get to meet her, for two reasons. The first is that she was an astronaut. I think all astronauts are amazing because their job requires them to be both very smart and very brave. If something goes wrong, they need to use their intelligence to fix the problem and their courage to stop them from panicking and screaming, “I don’t know what to do!” as I would. The second reason is that she was the first American female astronaut and some people were skeptical that a woman could be a good astronaut. She showed the world that gender is not a requirement, but intelligence and bravery are!