Many emails had been sent, and Night of the Notables was steadily approaching. The quest for an interview had begun, and I was contacting as many people as possible, who may have known really anything about Sally. Yes, Sally and I are on a first name basis now.

Logically, I began my search at Sally’s namesake organization, hoping to talk to  someone who may have known her personally. I then continued to email a handful of others who had written articles and biographies about her, but the outcomes were looked dismal. Disgruntling indeed. I had gotten a few replies back, some saying that they did not know Sally well enough to be interviewed, another who could not fit an interview into her busy schedule.

But alas, the light at the end of the tunnel presented itself. When it seemed that all hope was lost,  after countless (okay, perhaps not countless) disappointing replies, I secured an interview. Through Sally Ride Science, Sally’s sister, Bear Ride, was contacted, and said that she would be happy to speak to me. Of course, I was thrilled. Because Sally Ride was quite private about her personal life, I was most excited to really explore what Sally was like as a human being, rather than a historic figure. I looked at the interview as an opportunity to gain a specialized insight on Sally’s life,  which would hopefully enhance the authenticity of my speech POV.

And so a time was set.

I had the chance to speak to Bear for around half an hour, but even in this amount of time, my knowledge of Sally Ride grew deeper. Bear was open to answer all of my questions. Below are some questions that I came up this, used to guide the topic(s) of our conversation.

  1. How would you characterize Sally? As she was private about her personal life, what would you say were her most outstanding qualities as a human being?
  2. Sally Ride was chosen as one of 35 applicants out of 8000 to join a space program at NASA. What do you think set Sally apart from the others?
  3. After Sally Ride was selected to become the first American woman to be launched into space, there were some great expectations that came along with it. How did Sally feel about this responsibility  to her country but also to other aspiring female scientists?
  4. Because there were long periods of training to prepare for her space flights, do you think Sally Ride felt any doubt during this time, whether or not she was suited for the job?
  5. Sally Ride was asked some arguably sexist questions during a press conference prior to her first flight (“Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”). Although Sally saw herself as another astronaut and expected no special treatment as a woman, how did she respond to this kind of attention?
  6. As her career progressed, Sally soon realized that she was becoming a role models for girls in science. How do you think Sally’s scientific career affected how women are viewed in science?
  7. Sally Ride was also the youngest American to be launched into space. Do you think she was put at a disadvantage because she did not have the same amount of experience as others on her team?
  8. How did others on Sally Ride’s team (Challenger, 1983) view her?
  9. What was Sally’s ultimate goal in traveling to space (personally and on a larger scale)? What message did she want to send for women in science?
  10. As Sally continued on to pursue science after her NASA career, she assumed many different roles. Later on she founded Sally Ride Science. Why did Sally value education of youth? What did she set out to accomplish with her company?
  11. Since being founded, Sally Ride Science has been very successful. What do you think caused this success, on Sally’s part?
  12. How did Sally want to be remembered by the world? What do you think is her lasting legacy and effect on the world? How is the world different today because of Sally?
  • During our phone call, we talked a bit about Sally’s childhood, and she touched on some her more well-known role models: John Greene, John Wooden, and Gloria Steinem.
  • Sally loved science, baseball, and tennis from a young age, but Bear referred to her a few times as an introvert.
  • Bear also mentioned that it was her good communication skills, team-player attitude, and willingness to try new things that made her early career at NASA successful (1,2). Sally was always confident in her work and training and thought of herself as an equal to all of her colleagues and peers (7,8).
  • The public received her accomplishments very well, and were overall very encouraging, although there were some sexist comments or jokes made on occasion (5,8)
  • Although Sally hated the publicity surrounding her first flight into space, she was a ‘good sport about it’ and was open to being a role model for youth (3, 5, 6). Sally strongly believed that girls in science needed to have a role model and see a woman working in that field to believe that they could go into that career as well (6).
  • Sally became tired with all of the typical questions from the press, and would give them a certain ‘look’, that would tell them that she was not willing to answer such frivolous questions (5).
  • Sally’s goal to go into space wasn’t fueled by the dream of being the first American woman, but just to have the experience in space.
  • Her passion for education was inspired by her father, who was also an educator. In addition, she also had a few influential science teachers that were particularly supportive and encouraging in Sally’s work.

Well, those are all the facts.

The interview flew by quite quickly and I was amazed at all that I had discovered in such a short amount of time, about Sally’s life, goals, motivation, and above all, her mind. I was especially intrigued with some of Bear’s personal accounts, about her feelings during Sally’s first flight, and the way that Sally felt about all the media attention. It really reinforced the idea that Sally might have been not so different from us in the TALONS classroom, and that her true goal was not to be made into a celebrity. In fact, I can not think of a more unsuitable word to describe her. Sally was a scientist, and it just so happened that she the first American woman in space, but it wasn’t about the title. This is the theme that first really got my speech off the ground this year.

I would like to think that Sally would appreciate my understanding of her in all of her human-ness, but really, I know that there is much more to learn about Sally. And it would take a lot more than thirty minutes to cover it all.


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