Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space book cover courtesy of Simon & Schuster

Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space
Paperback, $16.99
Simon & Schuster, 2015

The thing I love most about astronaut biographies is that each has basically the same structure since we all know they end up astronauts, but it’s the hows, whens, and whys that are always different, revealing, and the most fascinating. It’s these variables that make each one so appealing. This is the case with Lynn Sherr’s Sally Ride. As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride holds a prominent place in the pantheon of space explorers, and is a true testament to human will and excellence. In Sally Ride, Sherr honors her and has crafted a compelling story about this true American Hero—a shero, if you will.

Through interviews with those close to Ride, journals, and letters, Sherr provides a very intimate look into her life and offers us a peek into a very guarded and private existence. It’s never salacious or inappropriate, but delivers great swatches of a deeply felt life. Ride was a tennis star, a physicist, engineer, an educator, and astronaut, but she let none of those labels define her; she was a complex person, and never considered her gender as detrimental. She was a force of nature looking to make a difference and impact. Post-NASA, her primary mission was educating children in math and sciences. She was a vocal champion about this, and created programs and wrote books for them.

Sally Ride’s official NASA portrait when she was selected to become an astronaut in 1978. (NASA photo)

In the canon of mostly male, white, middle-aged astronaut biographies, Ride’s naturally stands out for the way it tackles the male-dominated world of NASA. Through out her career, there are countless stories that show how brilliant engineers and actual rocket scientists were clueless about working with and for females. While some anecdotes are hilarious, others display her freethinking and serious nature as she sets out to infiltrate the long-established “boys’ club” of test pilots and NASA. The world orbiting Sally Ride was also in the throes of social and political change. She rose to prominence with a backdrop of other achievements starting to be undertaken by women. She was a trailblazer, and at 32, she was, and remains, the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space.

Sally Ride is a treat to read, and gives us a fully realized portrait of one of the great explorers of the modern age. Ride’s courage, motivation, and intelligence leap off the pages, assured to inspire anyone. Ride shows us that capability is not defined by gender, race, or sexuality but rather by remarkable human traits of perseverance and dedication. This is one of the best astronaut biographies out there, one that I hope many more will read.

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