Teraji: Ride on, Sally Ride

I was shocked by the sad news this past week that astronaut Sally Ride passed away all too soon at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.
I will never forget the day I discovered that Sally Ride read the Gilroy Dispatch.
She came to my attention when an astronomy professor at UC Santa Cruz, my alma mater, told us that Ride had attended classes there and that she went on to Stanford and become the first American woman to go into space. At the age of 32, she orbited the Earth 29 years ago on the Space Shuttle Challenger. Ride became a heroine of mine and an inspiration as someone who didn’t let stereotypical limitations stop her from reaching beyond the stars. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to be launched into space.
I was impressed with how tirelessly she worked to provide opportunities to encourage girls in particular to take math and science classes. She formed her own company called, “Sally Ride Science,” and partnered with corporations and nonprofits to provide educational opportunities all across the U.S. to students with a particular emphasis on exposing them to more science before high school (when many girls quit taking science and math). The percentage of girls who believe that “anyone can do well in math if they try” declines from 90 percent to 71 percent to 46 percent, from grades fourth to eighth to 12th.
Mission: For a frazzled and all-too-busy Gilroy mom who also works as an IBM manager to take an entire day to spend with her daughter sharing in the educational activities of a Science Festival.
Mission: For a Gilroy student by the name of Lea Ready to see just how much fun science can be for girls and know that for today’s women, even the sky isn’t the limit.
Lisa Ready and her daughter Lea attended the annual Sally Ride Science Festival at the NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field.
“We got there and there was this big ‘street fair’ with different activities sponsored by corporations,” Ready said. “IBM had a table where kids could encode their birth date in binary and then make a bracelet with different beads for the binary digits.
“NASA had the Mars Rover Model on hand. They took photos of the kids, which were then printed onto a NASA photo, so they could see what they’d look like as astronauts. The U.S. Navy provided a jet fighter cockpit for kids to sit in and explore.
“The Red Cross demonstrated a portable defibrillator. It was easy for the kids to learn how to use it because the machine talks to you and instructs you with phrases like ‘Please stand away from the body,’ before it sends out electro-shocks.
“There was an interesting oceanographer talking about density (did you know diet soda is less dense than regular soda)? A can of diet soda floats, but regular soda sinks), and Stanford brought their solar car there (it can go 200 miles before needing recharging).”
Lea’s favorite activity was a bottle rockets seminar, in which she enjoyed shooting plastic bottles into the air with different amounts of liquid in them.
The kids loved Ride’s stories of space flight (especially the explanation of how the space toilet works), and the fact that she carried M&Ms to eat on the space shuttle.
She introduced astronaut Janice Voss to the kids, science director for the Kepler spacecraft, and both scientists answered many questions from the kids.
As she goes off to college this fall, Lea will always remember times like this with her mom, and she will know that it was important to her mom to take this time out of her busy schedule and spend it doing something special with the daughter she loves so much.
After a day of enjoying electrical experiments where her hair stood on end, and using Lego Robotics to build and program a small robot, Lea knows that science careers are possible for women and that more women are needed in science for the future well-being of our planet.
Mission accomplished.
After writing about the Sally Ride Science Festival in the Dispatch, I was amazed to receive this message:
Our PR person (Toni DiMartino) forwarded the article that appeared today. I work for Sally Ride. I was very impressed with the article from Lea’s viewpoint of the festival. I noticed you work for a nonprofit benefiting girls and women and I wonder if there might be some way we can partner. Let me know if you’re interested in exploring a few ideas. Thanks again for the story.
Wesley Brumitt, Development, Sally Ride Science, 9191 Towne Centre Dr., L101, San Diego, CA 92122.”

Leave your comments