Today’s guest blog post is from Tam O’Shaughnessy—life partner of astronaut Sally Ride, and co-founder & CEO of Sally Ride Science. Over the past few months, Tam worked with our Doodle team to create a doodle for Sally’s 64th birthday. In this post, she tells us more about Sally’s life, her flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger, and her passion for helping kids stay excited about science and technology. -Ed.
As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride—who would have been 64 today—captured the nation’s imagination as a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers. But her historic flight represented just one aspect of a remarkable and multifaceted life. She was also a physicist, a science writer, and an inspirational advocate for keeping kids excited about science as they go through school.
Sally was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles. She grew up playing with a chemistry set and small telescope—and playing football in the streets with the neighborhood kids. Later she considered playing professional tennis, but decided instead to study science.
In 1977, Sally was finishing her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University when she saw an article in the student newspaper saying that NASA was looking for astronauts—and for the first time was allowing women to apply. Sally didn’t hesitate to send in her application, and became one of six women selected as part of the new crop of astronaut candidates. On June 18, 1983, she soared into history as the first American woman in space.
Looking back at Earth through the window of the space shuttle, Sally was moved by the view of our beautiful blue planet wrapped in its thin blanket of air. She realized how important it is for all of us to take care of our fragile home in space, and became an environmentalist. Many years later, we wrote books for young adults about Earth’s changing climate.
After leaving NASA, Sally became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. She loved being a scientist, but she was concerned that many young people—especially girls and minority students—abandon their early interest in science and math.
Studies show that the reason kids turn away from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is not that they don’t like it or aren’t good it. Instead, young people get turned off because society sends false messages about who scientists are, what they do, and how they work. So Sally decided to use her high profile to motivate young people to stick with their interest in science and to consider pursuing STEM careers.
In 2001, Sally and I and three friends started Sally Ride Science to create programs and publications that bring science to life and show young people that STEM is fascinating, creative, and fun. Since then, we’ve trained thousands of teachers on how to spark and sustain interest in STEM and reached millions of students with our books and programs.
Sally died almost three years ago on July 23, 2012, from pancreatic cancer. But I know she would be honored by today’s Google Doodle. With whimsy, it expresses Sally’s sense of fun and adventure, and her ability to inspire young people. And who knows—maybe her Doodle will motivate some girl or boy somewhere in the world to become a scientist and adventurer just like Sally.
Sally said it best . . .
Everywhere I go I meet girls and boys who want to be astronauts and explore space, or they love the ocean and want to be oceanographers, or they love animals and want to be zoologists, or they love designing things and want to be engineers. I want to see those same stars in their eyes in 10 years and know they are on their way!