June 18, 1983, was Blastoff day for the first American woman—Sally Ride—to fly into space (and only the third woman in the world). "Ride, Sally Ride,"spectators shouted. Recently, I visited this marvelous 7-foot-tall statue depicting Sally Ride wearing a replica of the same inflight coveralls and holding a model of the Space Shuttle Challenger. I found it to be a particularly engaging statue. For example, I had the impulse to zip the un-zipped zipper at the bottom of her pants!
Officially known as "The First American Woman in Space," the monument is located in Sally Ride Circle in front of the fascinating Cradle of Aviation Museum, Garden City, Long Island, New York. It was unveiled before an exuberant crowd once again shouting "Ride, Sally Ride,"on June 17, 2022, forty-nine years, minus one day, after her historic ride.
Aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger with three male astronauts, Sally Ride, a physicist, successfully used the shuttle's robotic arms to deploy satellites in outer space, among other tasks. In the photo, I'm reading the plaque that begins: "SALLY RIDE/First American Woman in Space . . . "
It is surrounded by blocks with donors' names and messages, including "Empowered Women/Empower Women."
The driving force behind the monument was documentary filmmaker Steven C. Barber, who got hooked on anything space-and-astronaut related as a kid. After getting three other statues to male
astronauts erected, he said: "It occurred to me there were zero monuments to any of the women of NASA. Sixty-five women had flown in space, thousands and thousands of women have worked at NASA and there isn't one monument to any of them."
Unlike his fundraising efforts for the male astronaut statues, Barber found "nobody was really interested. I'd say 99 percent of the Millennial generation didn't know who she was, which really blew my mind." Eventually he secured funding from several foundations and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and Maria Shriver. Barber hired the sculptors who had created the male astronaut monuments: the brothers Goerge and Mark Lundeen and Joey Bainer,
Sally Ride died at the age of 61 in 2012. The fact that her life partner for 27 years was a woman, Tam O'Shaughnessy, was noted for the first time in her obituary. A U.S. postage stamp and a quarter have been issued in Sally Ride's honor, just two of her many honors. Tam O'Shaughnessy is the executive director of the Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego that she had co-founded with Sally Ride to help narrow the gender gap in science and engineering.