Women of History: Sally Ride

When I was 8 years old, the film Apollo 13 came out.  I was immediately fascinated with the space program and its history.  My main focus was on the programs prior to the space shuttle so I never looked into the history of the space shuttle outside of general missions before recently.  However, one of my personal ‘heroes’ was Sally Ride, and I decided for this week to feature the first american woman in space.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, while not scientists themselves, promoted her interest in exploring. When she was 12, she was able to see the first female cosmonaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, take her turn.  It would be 1982 before another woman would enter space.

After graduating from a private high school she attended on tennis scholarship, she attended Swarthmore College.  Eventually she would transfer to Stanford University, where she would earn her bachelor degree in both english and Physics.  She continued her education in physics, eventually gaining her PhD in Physics in 1978.  Her main focus was lasers and astrophysics.

While finishing her doctorate, she answered an advertisement seeking applicants for NASA.  She was chosen to join in 1978, and would continue to be a part of NASA’s team for the next several decades. Her class of astronauts were the first to include women, and she was one of six. She didn’t immediately get on a shuttle.  Her first positions were as a communicator between the ground and the capsule for the second and third space shuttle flights (Columbia STS-2 and STS-3) in the early eighties.  She was also on the team to develop some of the technology that would be installed in later Shuttles, such as the Canada-Arm robotic arm.

In 1982, the USSR launched another woman into space, this time Svetlana Savitskaya.   It would be the following year that Sally got to be the first American woman to reach earth orbit.  Her first mission was the Challenger STS-7 mission.

Like every other astronaut she prepared for her mission, and did press conferences.Prior to the launch in June,  Sally did a press run.  People were fascinated with how a woman would deal with the rigors of space travel – although several questions were sexist in nature.  She was asked about her reproductive cycle, and if she cried if things went wrong. People at NASA wondered if she needed a 100 tampons on her trip.

On June 18, 1983, the Challenger launched and was in orbit for nearly seven days (returning to earth on June 24th).  Sally was on board with four other crew members, all but one rookies, and together they launched several satellites, and conducted experiments.  It also allowed her to use the arm she helped design. Overall it was a successful mission.

A year later, in 1984, Sally traveled into space again on the Challenger STS-41-G.  This mission lasted for nearly 9 days.  It was also a mission with several firsts.  It was the first time two women had served on the same mission (Sally and Kathryn Sullivan), and it also contained two foreign astronauts.  It was also a crew of seven, the most crew members that the shuttle had held to that point.  An IMAX camera was used to film the flight, and the footage was later used in the film ‘The Dream is Alive’.

Sally’s third mission was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but was cancelled when tragedy struck in January.  On January 28, 1986 the Challenger was launched, but never made it to orbit.  the ship exploded in mid-flight, leading to the deaths of all on board.  For the next two years, missions were scrubbed and a in-depth investigation took place to prevent it from happening again.  Sally was assigned to one of the teams investigating the operations.

After the end of the investigation, Sally was put in charge of putting together an Office of Exploration in DC and making plans for the future of NASA after such a tragedy.  This would be her last assignment for NASA, choosing to go into education afterwards.  However, it was not her last involvement with the agency.

In 1987 she started to work at Stanford as part of the Center for International Security and Arms control, and two years later she became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.  She also became involved with NASA’s outreach programs to educate students and promote science and exploration. This would become a focus of Sally’s public life in the 90s and 2000s.

In 1985, she became involved with the love of her life, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  They had been long time friends, and their romantic relationship was kept private from the general public who didn’t know until after Sally’s death 27 years later.  Sally had been married once before, to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but that had ended in divorce in 1987.

Their relationship was also a professional one.  Sally and Tam wrote several children’s science books over the years, and founded the Sally Ride Science organization in 2001 which promoted education and women in STEM occupations.  After Sally’s death, Tam would continue to run the organization.  The organization also ran the Sally Ride Science Festival, an event to promote science.

Sally would also be the president of Space.Com (One of the sources below)

Sally would once again be asked to be part of the investigation of a tragedy, this time the disintegration of the Columbia spacecraft in February 1, 2003.  She was the only person to have served on both investigations.

Sally was private about her personal life, including when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2011.  On July 23, 2012 she died in her home in California.

After her death, she received several honors for her space travel and promotion of education and science.  President Barack Obama presented her posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and during that same year she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She received the highest honor given by the Space Foundation with General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.

Perhaps Sally’s most important legacy is the one she has as woman.  Girls, like myself, grew up knowing they could make in space and in the science fields.  She promoted women in the STEM fields, and the education of children in space related sciences.  She also became posthumously a hero for the LGBTIA community.

In May 2018, the US Postal Service will be releasing a stamp in her honor.  This June will be the 35th Anniversary of her first mission into space.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Sally Ride
Wikipedia: STS-7
Wikipedia: STS-41-G /STS-17
Wikipedia: STS-61-M
Space.Com: Sally Ride
Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diago
NASA Biography: Sally K. Ride
A Brief History of menstruating in space
US Post Office Sally Ride Stamp

 

Women of History: Those Lost to the Sky

I have decided to do a special edition of the Women of history today. This week is a big week in US Space exploration history, although a tragic one as well. On January 27, 1967, The Apollo 1 disaster happened. It killed three astronauts after the pure oxygen in the cockpit caught on fire due to an equipment malfunction and the cockpit could not be opened in time. Their names were Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger B. Chaffee.

Nearly 20 years later another disaster would happen. On January 28, 1986 The space shuttle Challenger took off and exploded in mid-air killing all on board. It was later determined that a ring sealing the fuel takes had frozen and cracked during the cold night and caused the explosion.

Their names were Francis R. Scobee, Michael J. Smith, Ellison S. Onizuka, Judith A Resnik, Ronald E McNair, Gregory B Jarvis, and S. Christa McAuliffe.

17 years later, on February 1, 2003, NASA would be touched with tragedy again. During reentry, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated killing all on board and scattering debris across Texas. It was determined that a piece of foam protecting the space shuttle from the heat of reentry had become loose and had fallen off during launch. That exposed the inner ship to high temperatures and eventually destroyed the ship.

Those on board were Rick D. Husband, William C. McCool, David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, Michael P. Anderson, Laurel B. Clark, and Ilan Ramon.

Since this essay series is about the women of history, I am going to do a brief bio on the women involved in these tragedies. All members of these crews deserve to be remembered for their sacrifice and one day I may write an essay on the events themselves, allowing me to discuss the men involved in more detail. For now, I will focus on the women astronauts.

Out of the 19 people killed in these tragedies only four were women. They all came from different backgrounds, histories and skill sets. They had one thing in common though; a desire to explore and discover.

Judith A. Resnik

Judith Resnik was born on April 5, 1949 in Akron, Ohio, the daughter of two immigrants. She would attend Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania were she would earn a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. She would later earn her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland. During her early career she worked for several companies, including Xerox and the National Institute of Health. She also worked on various projects with NASA before her recruitment.

In 1978, Nichelle Nichols recruited her to NASA. She became one of the first women chosen as an astronaut, along with five others including Sally Ride who would be the first one in space. She was named a member of “Group 8”, a collection of 35 astronauts. They were divided into two groups, pilots and mission specialists. Resnik would be a mission specialist, and would specialize in robotics.

Her first mission would on the maidan Voyage of the Space Shuttle Discovery in August of 1984. The mission team spent a week in space, with the task of deploying 3 satellites, studying crystal growth, and experimenting with an IMAX camera. At the time she was the second woman in space, and also the first American Jewish woman to go into space.

She was assigned to be a mission specialist on Challenger ST-51-L. Due to evidence found in the cockpit, it is quite likely that she was one of the last passengers to be alive after the explosion.

After her death she was honored by her alma maters when both choose to name buildings after her. She also has two awards named after her: The IEEE Judith A. Resnik Award (IEEE) and the Resnik Challenger Award (Society of Women Engineers).

https://www.ieee.org/about/awards/tfas/resnik.html

http://societyofwomenengineers.swe.org/page/5430-2017-awards-and-recipients/individual-awards/3132-resnik-challenger-medal

Her brother Charles Resnik and other family members of the Challenger astronauts came together to form the Challenger Center in 1986 to promote Stem education and interest for children.

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S. Christa McAuliffe

Christa McAuliffe tends to be the most famous of her crewmates by virtue of her reason for being on the mission. McAuliffe was a New Hampshire school teacher who signed up for a program to put a teacher in space. She was a mission specialist, and was going to run various experiments and promote science education.

McAuliffe was born Sharon Christa Corrigan on September 2, 1948 in Boston Massachusetts. Early on she was known by her middle name, Christa. She crew up with the space program and felt inspired by it. She attended Farmington State College in 1970 (and married her longtime boyfriend Steven McAuliffe), getting a bachelors in education and history. She would later attended Bowie State University in 1978, earning her masters in education supervision and administration. She held several jobs as a social studies teacher, traveling as her husband’s career and their family needed them to. In 1983, she accepted her final position as a high school history teacher. She even designed a history course on “The American Woman.”

In 1985, she was selected from several thousand applicants for NASA’s Teacher in space project. She spent a year in training along with her backup, Barbara Morgan, and was scheduled to go into space on Challenger STS-51-L. During that mission she was to conduct several experiments and hold two short lessons from space.

After her death, she was honored by the naming of the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center (Concord, Massachusetts), The Christa Corrigan McAuliffe Center for Education and Teaching excellence (Farmington State UNiversity) and several other schools and education centers. Several teaching scholarships as well have been made in her name.

https://www.starhop.com

http://christa.org

Barbara Morgan would later fly as the first Teacher in space.

It was announced that the lessons and experiments she planned on teaching will be taught on the space Station by Joe Acaba and Ricky Arnold during their tours of duty on the station. They will be aired on the Challenger Center website in the spring.

Kalpana Chawla

Kalpana Chawla was born on March 17, 1962 in Karnal (Haryana), Punjab, India. She attended the Punjab Engineering College and got a bachelors in Aeronautical engineering. After receiving her degree, she migrated to the United States in 1982 to attend The University of Texas where she earned a masters in Aerospace engineering. She married Jean-Pierre Harrison in 1983. She would earn her Ph.D. in Aero-enginering in 1988 from the University of Colorado.

Once she earned her PHD she went to work for NASA to do research on fluid dynamics with landings. She would later work as a Vice President for Overset Methods continuing her research. She earned licenses to fly several different kinds of aircraft and even certified to be a flight instructor.

In 1993, Chawla became a naturalized Citizen of the United States and formerly applied to join the NASA team. She joined in 1995, and assigned her first flight in 1996. During her time as an Astronaut, Chawla would take two missions into space, both on the space shuttle Columbia.

Her first mission was STS-87, in 1997 where she was responsible for deploying a satellite. The deployment malfunctioned due to computer errors and procedures. There was a five month investigation into the incident that discovered the problems and decided it was not Chawla at fault.

During the down time between her missions, Chawla was assigned to work in the Astronaut office on work on the space station. She was focused on robotics, in particular robotic situational awareness

in 2000, plans for the STS-107 mission began to take shape and Chawla was selected for the seven member crew. Like with the CHallenger, there were several delays due to scheduling and technical problems. It was in January 2003 that the mission finally was launched.

Unlike with Challenger, the Launch was completed successfully, as thought at the time. However, the launch had dislodged a piece of foam causing the heat shield to have a critical weakness. However, the mission itself before the reentry went without issue. In total, Chawla logged 30.5 days in space.

Afterwards, Chawla was honored with several honors, both in the United states and her birth country of India. The Indian satellite program was renamed in her honor, and the first satellite was called Kalpana-1. Several awards and scholarships were named in her honor, and she even got immortalized in fiction, as a shuttle was named after her in Peter David’s Star Trek novel Star Trek: The Next Generation: Before Dishonor.

She and the rest of her crew members have had hills on Mars named after them, as well as asteroids. Her birthplace has named a Medical hospital in her honor, and several schools and housing complexes have named dorms and halls after her.

Laurel Clark

Laurel Blaire Salton was born on March 10, 1961 in Ames, Iowa. She grew up in Racine, Wisconsin however. She would attend college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1983 she graduated with a bachelor of Science in Zoology in 1983, and would later earn her doctorate in Medicine in 1987.

After completing her doctorate, she served in the United States Navy. She trained with the Experimental Diving Unit, at first focusing on pediatrics before starting training in diving related medicine and diving officer training. This heard her the designation of Radiation Health Officer and Undersea Medical Officer. She was assigned to a submarine Squadron located in Scotland.

After a few years of experience, and a promotion to Naval Submarine Medical Officer, she started training as a Naval Flight Surgeon. This training would come in handy in her later career.

She was selected by NASA to join the astronaut program in 1996 and spent two years in training as a mission specialist. Prior to STS-107, she was assigned to the Astronaut Office Habitability branch. Her total time in space was almost 16 days. Her focus during the Columbia mission was on biosciences research including gardening in space.

She was honored with the Clark Auditorium at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda Maryland. It displays various personal items as well as her uniforms and other space-related materials.

Her husband, Dr. Jonathan Clark, was also a flight surgeon and worked on the investigative team following the Columbia disaster afterwards.

George W. Bush awarded both crews posthumously with the Congressional Space Medal. He awarded it to the crew of Columbia on February 3, 2004 and to the crew of The Challenger on July 23, 2004.

Further Reading

Apollo 1:

Wikipedia:  Apollo 1

Challenger:

Wikipedia: Challenger STS-51-L

 

Judith Resnik:

Wikipedia: Judith Resnik

NASA: Judith Resnik

 

Christa McAuliffe:

Wikipedia: Christa McAuliffe

USA Today: Christa McAuliffe’s Science Lessons to be taught aboard Space Station

Challenger Center: Astronauts and Challenger Center to Complete Christa McAuliffe’s Lessons

 

Columbia:

Wikipedia: Columbia STS-107

 

Kalpana Chawla:

Wikipedia: Kalpana Chawla

NASA: Kalpana Chawla

NASA: Columbia Crew Memorial: Kalpana Chawla

Smithsonian Air & Space Museum Wall of Honor: Kalpana Chawla

 

Laurel Clark:

Wikipedia: Laurel Clark

NASA: Laurel Clark

NASA: Columbia Memorial: Laurel Clark

Arlington Cemetery Memorial Page: Laurel Clark