What It Takes - Sally Ride

36:04 July 27, 2018

What It Takes - Sally Ride

00:00:03 ALICE WINKLER: Now there’s no official, scientific scale, of course, that measures risk tolerance. Not that I know of. If there were, I’m pretty sure I’d be near the bottom, but even if you’re the kind of person who thinks of yourself at the upper end, I’m going to guess that the two people you’re about to hear from have got you beat.

00:00:22 SALLY RIDE: I have been a bit of a risk-taker all my life, not always in the traditional way of defining risks. But you know, when I was growing up, it was probably risky for a young girl to decide to be a scientist. You know, it was probably, even when I was in college, risky for a female college graduate to go on to graduate school in physics, and certainly, going on to be an astronaut was taking a risk.

00:00:48 ALICE WINKLER: That’s Sally Ride. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space. And this is Eileen Collins, who stood on Sally Ride’s proverbial shoulders and became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle and then to command it.

00:01:05 EILEEN COLLINS: When I went to summer camp, I would watch the gliders fly overhead. They would launch off the hill. They'd fly over the valley, and they'd come back and land. And I was just fascinated with the gliders, and I knew that someday I wanted to maybe do that, maybe fly. But I knew it was expensive, and I knew that, you know, it's not the kind of thing that a young girl aspires to do. Back in those days, you were going to be a — young girls would be a teacher, a nurse, or a stay-at-home mom.

00:01:36 ALICE WINKLER: This is What It Takes, a podcast about passion, vision, and perseverance from the audio archives of the Academy of Achievement. On this episode, Sally Ride and Eileen Collins talk about what led them to the highest of heights. Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be a smooth ride.

00:01:57 I’m Alice Winkler.

00:01:58 OPRAH WINFREY: "Hattie Mae, this child is gifted," and I heard that enough that I started to believe it.

00:02:04 ROGER BANNISTER: If you have the opportunity, not a perfect opportunity, and you don't take it, you may never have another chance.

00:02:10 LAURYN HILL: It all was so clear. It was just, like, the picture started to form itself.

00:02:15 DESMOND TUTU: There was no way in which a lie could prevail over the truth, darkness over light, death over life.

00:02:23 CAROL BURNETT (quoting CARRIE HAMILTON): “Every day I wake up and decide, today I'm going to love my life. Decide.”

00:02:31 JOHNNY CASH: My advice is, if they're going to break your leg once when you go in that place, stay out of there.

00:02:35 JAMES MICHENER: And then along come these differential experiences that you don't look for, you don't plan for, but boy, you’d better not miss them.

00:02:46 ALICE WINKLER: Okay, the first thing I want you to know is that this dynamic duo of Sally Ride and Eileen Collins never actually appeared together at an Academy of Achievement event, but between 2001 and 2006, both astronauts spoke with the Academy at length. Their life stories are quite different. One grew up middle-class in Southern California. The other grew up working-class in New York State.

00:03:12 One became a military pilot before joining the space program; the other became a physicist. But what they had in common was a love of science and a willingness to pursue a dream that had ridiculously little chance of coming true, and yet... so, first to Dr. Ride.

00:03:30 SALLY RIDE: I was growing up in the early days of the space program, and I can still remember teachers wheeling those big old black-and-white television sets into the classroom so that we could watch some of the early space launches and the splashdowns. And that made a real impact on me, as I think it did a lot of kids growing up at the time.

00:03:52 NASA ANNOUNCER 1: T-minus ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero. Ignition. Liftoff.

00:04:07 NASA ANNOUNCER 2: All right, liftoff at the block has started.

00:04:10 SALLY RIDE: I thought a lot about what it would be like to be on a rocket and what it would like to be in space, when I was, you know, twelve years old.

00:04:18 ALICE WINKLER: And were the other girls at school thinking those things, too, in the early 1960s? That’s what Irv Drasnin wondered. He’s the journalist who conducted this interview.

00:04:28 SALLY RIDE: Well, you know, it's interesting. I think a lot were. A lot of my girlfriends were — you know, liked science as much as I did, especially at age eight, nine, ten, eleven, and you know, we were all fascinated by the space program in one way or another. But I think that most of my friends ran into some obstacle or deterrent along the way that just sent them off in different directions in their careers. It might have been a teacher. It might have been a counselor. It might have been a parent. It might have been a peer group. And I was probably very fortunate just not to run into those deterrents while I was impressionable and growing up.

00:05:10 ALICE WINKLER: Sally Ride’s parents weren’t scientists, and they had no idea how to raise one, but they got their daughter books they thought she might love.

00:05:19 SALLY RIDE: Let's see. There was that all-time classic Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Machine.

00:05:25 ALICE WINKLER: Not a classic in my house. That could explain a lot. And Sally Ride’s parents bought her a subscription to Scientific American. Then there were those two teachers in high school who kept her on track.

00:05:38 SALLY RIDE: One taught physiology, and one taught chemistry. And what was so important to me was not that they were good science teachers. They were, but I’d had plenty of other good teachers growing up. What was important to me was that they helped me build my confidence in myself, you know, my self-esteem, and I needed that like lots of kids need it. And they basically said, "Look, you know, if you were good in math in sixth grade, you're going to be good in math in twelfth grade. You're going to be good in math in college. You know, you don't get dumber as you get older." And I needed to hear that and just have that confidence in myself that, yes, I was smart enough to go on to college and smart enough to go on and do whatever I was interested in, in college.

00:06:26 ALICE WINKLER: What Sally Ride was actually interested in, for a while, was becoming a professional tennis player. And she was almost good enough, but an honest assessment of her forehand, she said, led her to double-down on her first love, physics, which she studied at Stanford. Being the total slacker that she was, though, she also added a major in English, with a focus on Shakespearean literature. And then, just for fun, she also joined the Stanford tennis team.

00:06:55 After college, she stayed at Stanford for graduate school, and that’s when the stars aligned.

00:07:02 SALLY RIDE: It really wasn't until I was literally just a couple of months away from getting my Ph.D. in physics when I saw, believe it or not, an ad in the Stanford student newspaper that had been put in the newspaper by NASA, saying that they were accepting applications for astronauts. And the moment I saw that, I knew that that's what I wanted to do.

00:07:26 They had never taken a woman. One of the reasons that they were putting ads in student newspapers was that, first of all, they hadn't, at that time, taken any astronauts in about ten years, so they needed to get the word out. But more importantly, it was the first time they were planning to bring women into the astronaut corps. And they knew that unless they put announcements in places that qualified women would see them, they would get just the usual suspects of white male military test pilots applying to the program. So, this was the first time that they were bringing in women.

00:08:04 I had never flown anything, not a thing. I had flown in very large airplanes, but I had never flown anything. But NASA was looking for — you know, the astronaut corps at that time was still primarily test pilots, and they had made it clear that, with the Space Shuttle program, they actually needed an astronaut corps that was more than 50 percent scientists and engineers, less than 50 percent test pilots.

00:08:29 So they made it very, very clear that they wanted people with science and engineering backgrounds, and that the test pilot, or even a pilot background, was not required. They'd teach us everything we needed to know about that.

00:08:45 ALICE WINKLER: She knew she had all the qualifications, but, come on, what were the chances?

00:08:49 SALLY RIDE: They were small. They were pretty darned small. There were about 8,000 of us who applied, and out of that, NASA picked 35 of us to be, you know, the first Space Shuttle astronaut class.

00:09:02 ALICE WINKLER: We’ll pick up the Sally Ride story in a few minutes, but let’s get to Eileen Collins. She was born in 1956, just five years after Sally Ride, but born into much humbler circumstances, in a little town called Elmira, New York. Eileen Collins started thinking about the space program in fourth grade when she read an issue of Junior Scholastic magazine with a feature called something like “Pro and Con: Should the United States Fund the Space Program?”

00:09:33 EILEEN COLLINS: And I read the two articles, and it was totally obvious to me: “pro.” Of course we're going to spend money on space. We don't know anything about it. We want to learn about it. We want to send people into space. We want to go to the moon. We want to learn about the universe that we live in. So I became very pro-space. Back then, all the astronauts were men, but they were still my role models, and I very much looked up to them.

00:09:56 I would read articles about them and their family and their children, what they did before they became astronauts, which was mostly flying for the military and being test pilots for the military. So that's what I wanted to do. But I never told anyone that because I was a young girl, and I know they would have just said, "You're crazy." So I kept it to myself.

00:10:17 ALICE WINKLER: She may have kept it to herself, but luckily, she had books.

00:10:22 EILEEN COLLINS: Oh yes, I loved books, and let me go back to — I was seven years old. My family — we were actually living in government housing for five or six years of my life. We lived in a government housing project, and I lived there between age seven and age twelve. I loved it, by the way, because it happened to be on the end of the city, near the forest, and there was a creek out there, and there was a place for us kids to go play.

00:10:47 Of course, my parents couldn’t wait to get out of there, which they eventually did. But I would say it was a very important part of my childhood because, you know, we'd play outside, and we, you know, just developed, you know, childhood groups of, you know, teams and leadership development. And all that stuff was going on in a really informal, you know, childhood environment. And it was then, in those days, that I discovered how much I loved books.

00:11:13 Because, you know, there were a lot of children living in this housing project, and we always played outside. And there was just one day, you know, I said, "You know, I just want to go read some books." And I was seven years old, and I was sitting in my living room going through these books that we had checked out of the library, and all my friends are outside playing, like they do every Saturday. And I'm going, "I want to sit here and read these books. Look at all these I can learn," and everyone's outside playing.

00:11:40 They're like, "Oh, come on out, Eileen!" And I go, "No, no. I want to read these books." And I remember telling my mother that I want to go to the library all the time, and it was a long ways away, so she'd have to drive me down there. So I just learned to love the library at that age. I learned where all the sections — where all the books were in the library, and I started — you know, eventually, when I was a pre-teen, maybe twelve, thirteen, fourteen years old, I started finding the books on flying, books about exploring and learning things that I couldn't learn in my hometown.

00:12:10 The Flying Tigers that flew over in China, you know, that was one that jumped out at me, and there were many, many books on the Vietnam War, the Korean War, World War II, World War I, military flying, and I just became very interested in this. Again, they were all male pilots, but I thought, "Well, maybe that'll change someday." And eventually, I stumbled onto the Women Air Force Service Pilots, who were a group of women that flew during World War II.

00:12:36 They were not active duty military, but they did fly military aircraft within the United States.

00:12:40 ALICE WINKLER: A little digression about the Women Air Force Service Pilots, otherwise known as WASPs. They were recruited and allowed to fly domestic missions during World War II because qualified male pilots were needed overseas for combat. So the military wasn’t enlightened so much as it was desperate, and if you doubt me about that, take a listen to this priceless Army-Navy newsreel shown to servicemen around the world in 1943.

00:13:10 NARRATOR: But even before they get a chance to take the polish off their nails, it's out onto a dusty Texas drill field with them. Right away, the Air Force wants to get a little muscle on those pretty arms. This scene provides a pretty fair picture of what the girls look like from all angles. None of them are under 21 or over 35. The Army judges each girl not by her eagerness, but by her ability to fly.

00:13:38 The little blonde on the right, with her hair bleached by the sun, you or I might judge by other standards. She doesn’t. Lonnie — her name’s Lenore Horton — is pretty serious about her flying, for the duration, anyhow.

00:13:51 ALICE WINKLER: Do yourself a favor and go watch the whole six minutes on YouTube. But despite the campy sexism of the man you're hearing narrate, the WASPs did their job, had an impact, and inspired young girls like Eileen Collins.

00:14:07 EILEEN COLLINS: And those women really set the foundation for the later decision that was made, in the mid-1970s, to allow women to become pilots. And the Navy first made the decision, and then the Air Force, to allow women to go through the military pilot training. Now that decision was made right after I got out of high school, so I thought, "Hey, this is the way I want to go," so I joined the Reserve Officer Training Program at Syracuse University.

00:14:33 And then it occurred to me that I could be an astronaut, for the first time, in 1978, and that was when NASA selected the first women — there were six women that were selected to be mission specialists for the brand-new program, the Space Shuttle. That was the year that I graduated from college. And it was also the year that I had been selected to become one of those Air Force pilots, so I thought, "Okay, I'm on my way. I'm going to go through Air Force pilot training. I'd like to be an instructor pilot. I've always loved teaching. This way I can combine flying and teaching. After that, I'll get a master's degree, and I'm going to apply to the Shuttle program."

00:15:12 And true — people thought, "Eileen, this isn't like you at all. You're just the average girl from Elmira, New York." And I was not the most likely to succeed. In fact, I was probably one of the, you know, people that just blended in, and I was probably the worst dresser in the school. But again, you know, how do I account for that? You know, at this age, I look back at my life, and I say, "Why did I end up being the first woman shuttle pilot and it wasn't somebody else? Why did I end up being the first shuttle commander and it wasn't somebody else? Why did that happen to me?"

00:15:44 I still do consider myself, you know, an average girl from Elmira, New York, but my interest in flying was — it was something that I didn't want to walk away from.

00:15:55 ALICE WINKLER: Eileen Collins credited her success to luck and timing many times during this interview with Irv Drasnin, and there’s, of course, some truth to that. But she was plenty unlucky, too, and something in her drove her to overcome. There were the years, for instance, when her family was on food stamps and welfare, and there was the time a massive hurricane destroyed her family’s home and everything in it, leaving them to take shelter in a church basement. And just after she graduated from high school, her mother became quite sick, so she had to change her college plans.

00:16:32 EILEEN COLLINS: I really didn't feel comfortable leaving, and so I thought, “Well, I'm going to stay home my first year. I'll go one year to the community college, stay home and take care of my mother” — and I had a younger sister and brother — “and take care of them, and work,” if I could. Which, it turned out, I was able to work, also, and I did that my first year.

00:16:53 Thirty hours a week on the average, 40 hours a week during the Christmas season, and I really loved it. And I had my responsibilities at home. I had to cook dinner every night. I'd cook a casserole. I'd leave it on the stove for anybody that had to come home late, but I enjoyed the community college so much. The professors were excellent; they were thought-provoking. I really liked the college, so I said, "I'm just going to stay here another year because they have the program that is..."

00:17:23 You know, and my mother did get better, and she was able to go back to work. But I stayed at the community college for two years and did get an associate in science degree, which eventually transferred to Syracuse University. And those first two years in college, I worked. I saved my money. I didn't spend my money on anything unless it was absolutely necessary. I put the money in the bank. It was the summer between my junior and senior years at Syracuse that I had saved up enough money to start taking flying lessons.

00:17:53 Back in those days, it was about eleven hundred dollars to get a pilot's license, including ground school, instructor costs, and airplane fuel costs, and I had that money saved up. And I would give, like, hundred-dollar chunks to the fixed-base operator that taught the flying lessons. And I did the ground school, and I started flying, and I realized, "This is what I love. I don't care what it costs. I'm going to keep doing it." And I paid for flying lessons myself and eventually did get my license.

00:18:22 It took awhile. I had to stretch it out because I could only fly during the summer, but that's what led me into military flying.

00:18:34 The way I handled the stress of pilot training in flying was by being prepared and by studying ahead of time. And the way I would study for a flight — and I did this every night — we call it chair flying. I'd sit in my chair, and I'd have my checklist in front of me, and there'd be nobody else in the room.

00:18:53 I wouldn't answer the phone. The TV was off. There was no noise, and I started with the walk-around, and I went through everything, what I'm looking at in the walk-around. Then I'd do engine start, and I'd do it all in my head, and then I’d do — every radio call that I was going to make, I would say them, and I would practice them — the taxi out, the takeoff, then what I'm doing out in the flying area. I’d do cloverleaf, Cuban eight, loops, stalls, spins.

00:19:20 Come back to the pattern, go over all the radio calls. Which patterns am I going to fly? I'm going to fly no flaps; I'm going to fly single engines; I'm going to fly full-stop landing; I'm going to taxi back. And then I’d do the post-flight, and I’d go through the whole thing. And it would take, like, an hour-and-a-half to do the whole thing. And then, as I got more advanced, I would do the same thing, but I would throw in emergencies. Okay, what would happen if I get an engine fire? What would happen if I, you know — the engine fails on me or my flight control system fails? What if I have to eject from the airplane? I’d get in the right body position, you know, feet and knees together, elbows in, pull the handles, pull the triggers.

00:19:56 I'm punched out of the airplane. There's my parachute. You know, what do I do? I pull out my LPUs, which are flotation devices. You know, pull out my raft. You know, what do I do while I'm coming down? How do I land? What do I do after I touch down? So I’d go through these in my mind all the time, and I'm not afraid if one of those things happen to me in the airplane because I know exactly what I'm going to do. It's the same thing in the Space Shuttle, although there are hundreds of more things that could go wrong in the Space Shuttle than in an airplane, just hundreds more.

00:20:26 ALICE WINKLER: Right as Eileen Collins finished college and was on the road to becoming an Air Force pilot, Sally Ride was blazing her own trail, training for her first flight into space. There’s some overlap in the way they prepared for their respective jobs, but remember, Sally Ride was a physicist with no experience flying. You'd have to think she sometimes at least suffered from self-doubt or fear of failure.

00:20:51 SALLY RIDE: Actually, I didn't, and I'm not quite sure what that says, but I didn't have any doubts that that was what I wanted to be doing, and I didn’t have any doubts that, you know, that I would be able to do it. I mean I'd made it through high school, undergraduate, graduate school, to a Ph.D., so I knew how to learn things. I knew how to study. I knew how to concentrate and to dedicate myself to learning, you know, one particular area. And that's what I was doing again, so I was fairly confident and comfortable, actually, in the environment.

00:21:27 ALICE WINKLER: Comfortable, except for the fact that she was a woman in an institution that had never before seen the likes of her.

00:21:34 SALLY RIDE: It was tougher for a woman, but the reason was, really, the surrounding culture at the time — the culture at NASA, at the Johnson Space Center, and also the culture in the country. It wasn't more difficult, interestingly, within the Astronaut Office itself. The women and men — first of all, the group of 35 of us who were selected included six women, so not just one, but six.

00:22:06 A little bit of security in numbers, and the 29 men who were selected as part of that group were actually accustomed to working with women. One had had a Ph.D. thesis advisor who was a female physics professor, so they were not unaccustomed to the concept. So we had a peer group that was very supportive and didn't think that it was that unusual. However, our whole group was set into this culture where it was very unusual. Out of roughly 4,000 technical employees at the Johnson Space Center — 4,000 or so scientists and engineers — I think there were only four women, so that gives you a sense of how male the culture was.

00:22:50 When we arrived, you know, we doubled — more than doubled — the number of women with Ph.D.s at the center.

00:22:59 ALICE WINKLER: Still, she just stayed focused on the work at hand and didn’t spend a lot of time thinking about the path she was forging for women.

00:23:08 SALLY RIDE: You know, I didn't. I mean, of course, we all knew that the six of us were the first six women to enter the astronaut corps. We were very well aware of that. We realized that this was a significant breakthrough and that, to some extent, we were pioneers and trailblazers. But I have to say that I don't think I appreciated how much of a trailblazer I was for women, and how much women would look up to me as a role model and the things that I had done, until after my first flight, after I landed, partly because, while I was in training, I was pretty well insulated by NASA.

00:23:47 They wanted me in training. They wanted me to learn what I was supposed to learn. They didn't want me out talking to reporters and the press and the public. So I was, you know, not unaware. I mean I read newspapers, I watched television, but I wasn't face-to-face with women until I came back from my flight, and then it hit home pretty hard how important it was to an awful lot of women in the country.

00:24:20 NEWS ANCHOR: And liftoff. Liftoff of STS-7 and America's first woman astronaut, and the shuttle has cleared the tower.

00:24:29 ALICE WINKLER: That first flight came on June 18, 1983. As she sat in the Challenger, waiting for takeoff, the huge crowds that had gathered near the Kennedy Space Center to watch were singing

“Ride, Sally, ride,” from a song that wasn’t written for her but might as well have been.


00:24:47 Listen

All you want to do is ride around, Sally

Ride, Sally, ride

All you want to do is ride around, Sally

Ride, Sally, ride

00:25:03 ALICE WINKLER: During that mission, the crew launched two satellites and conducted pharmaceutical experiments. One of Sally Ride’s jobs was operating the robotic arm. We’ve all heard astronauts wax eloquently about what it’s like to be in space, but Sally Ride had her own take.

00:25:21 SALLY RIDE: You know, it is absolutely unbelievable and, you know, unfortunately, indescribable. You know, the view of Earth is absolutely spectacular, you know, and the feeling of looking back and seeing your planet as a planet is just an amazing feeling. It's a totally different perspective, and it makes you appreciate actually how fragile our existence is.

00:25:50 You know, you can look at Earth's horizon and see this really, really thin royal blue line right along the horizon. And at first, you don't really quite internalize what that is, and then you realize that it's Earth's atmosphere and that that's all there is of it. And it's about as thick as the fuzz on a tennis ball, and it's everything that separates us from the vacuum of space.

00:26:17 You know, if we didn't have that atmosphere, we wouldn't be here. And if we do anything to destroy that atmosphere, we won't be here, you know, so it really puts the planet in perspective.

00:26:30 ALICE WINKLER: Sally Ride flew into space on the Challenger one more time after that, in 1984. She was preparing to take her third flight, in 1986, when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded, 73 seconds after launch, killing everyone on board.

00:26:49 SALLY RIDE: It was a blow, both professionally, as you can imagine, to, you know, everyone in the astronaut corps, but also personally. Four of the astronauts who were killed in the Challenger explosion were part of our group of 35 astronauts, part of that astronaut class, so these were people that, at that time, I’d known for eight years. I’d worked with them every day. I'd, you know, gone to dinner at their houses, I knew their families, so they were very, very close, close friends.

00:27:20 My then-husband had been on the flight before the Challenger accident, and I was scheduled to go about two months after the Challenger accident. So, you know, it hit me very personally just to lose friends and to think about, you know, what might have been. And of course, it was also a huge blow professionally because, you know, I think that astronauts understand very well what the risks are of flying in space, but we all also have a real trust and faith in NASA and the process that it goes through to minimize those risks to the extent possible.

00:28:04 And as the investigation unfolded, it became very clear that that system had broken down and that that system that we trusted to, you know, track down any flaw or any piece of bad test data really had failed.

00:28:21 ALICE WINKLER: Not long after the Challenger disaster, Sally Ride left the space program. She had been planning to retire from the astronaut corps after her third flight anyway. She went on to work at Stanford and UC San Diego, and she led public outreach programs for NASA, aimed at kids, but she also spoke to school groups, lots of them, at every level, from elementary through college, and she started to notice something.

00:28:49 SALLY RIDE: What I realized in doing that was that there were a lot of young girls and young women who were very, very interested in science, just like I was when I was growing up, and that that number — the number of those girls was rather large in elementary school. In fact, it seemed to be that about the same number of girls as boys showed an interest in the space program, in science, but that, by the time they got to high school and college, if I would go to talk to a physics class, I would see that the number of women in the class was not that much more than when I was in college — a little bit better, but not that much more.

00:29:35 So it was really clear that the pipeline was leaking more girls than boys, and there have now been surveys — there was one, you know, not-recent 1996 survey of fourth graders that asked a bunch of questions, including, "Do you like science?" And 68 percent of fourth-grade boys said they liked science, 66 percent of fourth-grade girls said they liked science, so in fourth grade, it's the same number of boys and girls.

00:30:07 Then we start losing both boys and girls, but we lose girls disproportionately, all the way through, and it starts right around fourth or fifth grade. So I decided that, you know, it was worth my time to try to have some impact on that.

00:30:24 ALICE WINKLER: She started her own company, Sally Ride Science, to inspire young people, especially middle-school-aged girls, to become rocket scientists or geochemists or microbiologists, and to promote STEM literacy. After her death, the organization became part of UC San Diego, where she had taught. Another of Sally Ride’s legacies was that she made room at the table, and in the cockpit, for the many women astronauts who have followed in her footsteps.

00:30:55 Eileen Collins arrived at NASA just twelve years after Sally Ride, and by then being a woman in the astronaut corps didn’t merit much news coverage. But Collins, who had become one of the first female Air Force test pilots, achieved her own firsts at NASA. In 1995, she became the first woman to pilot the Space Shuttle, and in 1999, the first woman to command it. Journalist Irv Drasnin asked Colonel Collins whether she felt her uphill battle had been exhausting or a burden.

00:31:29 EILEEN COLLINS: Let me tell you, that's a really good question. Is it a burden, or do you feel it could be a burden? Yes, I could make it a burden if I wanted to. And if I did that, it would just make me miserable. And I had to accept a long time ago that if I'm going to do what I love in life, I'm going to have to take the good things and the bad things with them, and I'm going to have to make the things that could be bad be positive, or else I'm going to be out of here before I really...

00:31:57 I didn't want the hardships that go along with being the first woman to make me leave because then I would be leaving a career that I loved. So I decided I'm going to make it work in my favor, and I am going to be in charge.

00:32:12 SALLY RIDE: You know, I'd like to be remembered as someone who was not afraid to do what she wanted to do, and as someone who took risks along the way in order to achieve her goals.

00:32:26 ALICE WINKLER: Again, that’s Sally Ride, and I’m going to let her end this episode, as she ended her speech to the students gathered at the Academy of Achievement’s Summit in 2006, with this wonderful story.

00:32:39 SALLY RIDE: Right after my first flight, I was one of the more famous people on the planet. There was actually a lot of publicity leading up to my flight. You couldn't pick up a newspaper or turn on the TV without seeing my face in conjunction with the flight that was coming up. I was going to be the first woman to go into space, and it was a big deal at the time. Well, about two weeks after I landed from my first flight, I was having lunch with a friend in New York City, and a woman that neither of us knew came up to the table and sat down and said, you know, "Can I join you?"

00:33:12 And we said, "Sure, why not?" And she said, "I have a story I have to tell you." Her story was that she had a five-year-old son who, about four months before, had discovered the space program as only five-year-olds can. He was passionate about it. It was the only thing he cared about. He made her buy him a flight suit, buy model rockets. He read everything there was to read about our flight coming up because ours was the first flight on his horizon.

00:33:47 He made his mother watch the countdown of our flight, starting at four in the morning, when we were just walking out to the pad. And as the clock ticked down to zero, we launched, and they cheered, and he was ecstatic, and she was happy and went back to get ready for work. And about five minutes later, she heard him crying, and she came running back into the room. "What's the problem? What's the problem?" — you know, "Is the Space Shuttle okay?"

00:34:15 And he said, you know, "Yes, they're fine." But he was still sobbing, and she said, "Well, what's the matter then?" And he said, "Mommy, can little boys grow up to be astronauts, too?"

00:34:27 Thank you.

00:34:30 ALICE WINKLER: Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012 when she was just 61 years old. Eileen Collins retired from NASA in 2006 after four space flights and has lived a very private life since. Between them, the two astronauts logged over 1,215 hours in space.

00:34:55 This is What It Takes from the Academy of Achievement. Make sure to check out our other episodes on your favorite podcast app. I’m Alice Winkler. Thanks for listening, and thanks to the Catherine B. Reynolds Foundation for funding What It Takes.


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