There are moments in your life that you will never, ever forget, no matter how long you live. One of those, for me, was June 18, 1983. I had a front row seat for the first launch of Challenger, standing there along the Banana River, several cameras ready for the once in history shot (which I did get in spectacular fashion). Somewhere, I have the press pass, car pass, buttons, patches, and the press kits.
It was one of the greatest moments of my life. That’s why I’m using one of the first official NASA photos of her. That was a glorious day, when those first press photos came out. It was a day to celebrate. As a gender “we” had finally made it.
That day, I felt like I was riding with her. I felt like she was flying for me. I stood there, besides one of the co-founders of our Women in Space Network, both of us in tears.
An American woman was finally going into space – not as a token woman, but as a viable scientist. I remember standing there, watching Challenger. Each launch vehicle had a personality of their own. Columbia went up a little slower, but Challenger just wooshed up, faster than Columbia, stealing my heart. Those of us covering the program in those days had our favorites. Challenger was mine. And then, it was gone.
Sally Ride handled things with a quiet dignity, going about her job, with the proverbial Right Stuff. You did what you came to do, and that was that. She wasn’t a token female, she was an astronaut.
She gave us all hope. She proved to us that women were finally able to fly with the big guys. Ironically, it took the destruction of Challenger for women to fully establish their role in space, dying alongside the men.
Sally Ride died with the same quiet dignity she had as she handled the pressure of being America’s first woman in space. She belongs with the legends.
“Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds –
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of –
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I’ve chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
“Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God.”
High Flight – John Gillespie Magee, Jr.