When I was ten, this was one of my favorite books. To be honest, at that point it was a little below my reading level. But I didn’t care. It was about Sally Ride. I’d just recently seen The Right Stuff and I remember being so disappointed that there were no girls among the astronauts in that movie. But what could you do, it was history. And as far as I could tell, where history was concerned women only rarely got to do cool things.
Well, Sally Ride was also part of history. Much more recent history, but she was in there nonetheless. She’d been to space on the shuttle. She’d proven for America what Valentina Tershkova had shown in the USSR twenty years before. Women could go into space.
I didn’t have any designs on being an astronaut. My big brother was the astronomy enthusiast of the family. He had a telescope and built models of the space shuttle and space station. For me, the importance of Sally Ride wasn’t that I thought I could follow directly in her footsteps.
It was that she proved that not even the sky was the limit. Girls could do anything. We just had to keep fighting against anyone that tried to hold us back.
I also really loved her hair.
It was the 80s, okay?
Her obituary told the world something else new: she was a lesbian. I wish I had known that. I wish a lot of kids had known that. Not because we have some kind of puerile right to delve into her private life. But rather because it would have been one more thing for younger me to hold close. Girls can go to space. Girls who like girls can go to space, and write books, and have amazing lives and love. And screw the haters, because Sally Ride got to look down on the Earth from orbit and see something so beautiful that some call it God.
My heart goes out to her partner, and it makes me so angry to think that she’ll be denied the benefits that should be hers. Maybe that will change, soon. Women went to space. In time, we can do anything.
Thank you, Sally Ride. Ten-year-old me thanks you, and says she loves you. We all come from the ashes of stars. Some just get closer to returning than the rest of us.