An award-winning journalist’s revealing biography of Sally Ride (1951-2012), the first American woman in space.
Former ABC News correspondent Sherr (Swim: Why We Love the Water, 2012, etc.) first met Ride, a young Stanford-trained physicist, in 1981. Three years earlier, NASA had chosen Ride to join a group of five other women and 29 men to participate in the new space shuttle program. The group represented the very best minds America had to offer. But for the women, who were the first in NASA history to be selected for space flight, the challenge was even greater. They not only represented themselves as individuals, but their entire gender. As the first woman to actually go on a mission, Ride came under especially intense scrutiny from the media. Her ability to lead but also “take orders like a trooper,” along with her wit and charm, endeared her to America and the world. During the nine years she was associated with the space program, Ride’s exemplary conduct “transformed female astronauts from a punch line into a matter of national pride.” She returned to academia afterward and became a professor. Eager to use her notoriety to help young people, and especially girls, take an interest in math and science, she co-founded Sally Ride Science in 2001. However, the former astronaut was never entirely comfortable with her celebrity status and kept parts of her life hidden, including the fact that she was a lesbian. Though married during her years at NASA, Ride’s true sexual orientation did not become public until her death, when her obituary mentioned that she had been survived by a female partner of nearly three decades. Sherr’s book is important not simply because it memorializes an American icon. It pointedly reminds readers of the crippling burden of “shame and fear” that even—and perhaps especially—the most golden heroes must bear in societies that cannot tolerate difference.
An intimately celebratory biography.