Sally Ride: Flying to Space, and Beyond

Sally K. Ride (1951 - 2012)
Sally K. Ride (1951 – 2012) ~ photo courtesy her NASA biography

I heard the news of Dr. Sally Ride’s passing when I got home from work last night. I stared, stunned and saddened, at my tablet’s screen as I read about her 17-month battle against pancreatic cancer.

Her name took me back nearly thirty years, to when she first blipped on my radar.  Back in the late 70s and early 80s, I followed NASA’s shuttle program closely.  I definitely remember her as the first American woman in space, because that same year I graduated from high school and pursued a college degree in one of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) fields of study.  I began in the fall semester of 1983 at Wichita State University as an electrical engineering student, but ultimately transferred my focus to my first love, mathematics, and computer science.

I didn’t completely succeed in transferring my love for mathematics on to my offspring (regardless of gender).  My son had an aptitude for mathematics, but a personality clash early with his high school teacher sabotaged any hope of the local school district fanning the fires of his math passion.  Instead, he became an artist.  My daughter loved chemistry, one of the few courses I struggled with in college.  But her love for music and vocal performance overcame her desire to blow things up in a lab.  Both disciplines required hard work, but she found music much more appealing and satisfying.

Sally Ride had a passion for “motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.”   She was “an advocate for improved science education,” and wrote “five science books for children: To Space and Back; Voyager; The Third Planet; The Mystery of Mars; and Exploring Our Solar System. She has also initiated and directed education projects designed to fuel middle school students’ fascination with science.” (NASA biography of Sally K. Ride).

My thoughts and prayers are with her friends and family during their time of grief.  I will try to honor her memory through outreach programs via my local astronomy club that inspire the next generation of scientific pioneers.

May she soar through the stars in peace. 

Far-Out Transportation

Strange how craziness infests my best intentions.  I started this blog entry Monday to recap an interesting weekend experience.  Now, I find myself approaching noon on Thursday with no progress on the blog front.

Last Saturday morning, I attended the  Annual Driver Training for all Advantage Vanpool Drivers in Kansas City, Missouri.  We left our vans for their annual inspection by the KCATA mechanics at their garage and took a bus to the facility for breakfast and training.  The Vanpool Coordinator handed out updated policies and procedures for reporting accidents, maintenance and safety.  Two of the biggest changes included a complete moratorium on the use of any kind of personal electronic device (PED) while driving (violating this policy would result in the termination of the vanpool) and when returning a loaner van, we are too top off the gas tank and remove all personal items and trash.

Our instructor had trained hundreds if not thousands of people to drive, from high school teenagers to 86-year grandmothers.  He also taught commercial drivers education and is a native of the Kansas City metro area (in fact, Noland Road in Independence is named for his great-great-grandfather).  He recently retired from a long career as a teacher and coach and now consults to keep busy.

Four hours later, I survived the videos and enjoyed our instructor’s anecdotes without nodding off more than once.  We returned to our vans via the bus and I drove back home to Lansing.

That evening, I took my father and my husband to the October 2011 meeting of ASKC at the Gottlieb Planetarium.  The featured guest speaker, Jack Dunn of the Mueller Planetarium in Lincoln, Nebraska, spoke on the last Shuttle flight and the future of human space flight and exploration, mentioning SpaceX and Virgin Galactic by name (and showing us some prototypes via video on the planetarium’s dome.  He claimed even Amazon’s Bezos is investing in private space exploration, but information on that venture is hard to come by (or not as it took me like ten seconds to find Blue Origin’s website … I just need some help deciphering their logo).

Prior to the Dunn’s presentation on far-out space tourism low Earth orbit vehicles, we learned about the Gottlieb Planetarium’s spherical projection system from it’s director.

As we were leaving, we admired an old fire truck, street car and noticed an Amtrak train with vintage Pullman cars waiting to leave the station.  Fascinating mix of old and new transportation separated by mere minutes and/or light years.

I had hoped to report the status of star visibility from Union Station, but clouds obscured the night sky and reflected the abundance of light emanating not only from the Crown Center area but the Power & Light District to our north.  I have two more opportunities to report from a location other than my backyard – tonight and tomorrow night, but with my son and his wife on the road from Texas to attend a wedding Friday evening, I probably won’t get the opportunity to make another entry in the Great World-Wide Star Count this year.