By David Gallaher
I wasn’t old enough to watch John Glenn make his orbital flight or watch Neil Armstrong land on the moon. Heck, I wasn’t even born yet. But…I did remember Sally Ride. Not only did I remember her, I also fell in love with her…in that special way you only can at the age of eight.
At that point in the Eighties, I had already forsaken cartoon crushes on Teela, Scarlett, and Cheetara and I had moved onto my first “real” girlfriend, Kate Hartwig. Kate was cute, she had the cutest dimples and sprayed all her letters to me in perfume. It was adorable, but the day my dad brought home pictures of the 1983 Challenger shuttle crew it was all over with me and Kate. In that stack of pictures was a full-color shot of Sally Ride — the first American woman in space!
Growing up as a kid, the space shuttle program was still a bit of a novelty. Every time the shuttle would launch, my classmates and I would have to stop what we were doing and walk single file towards the library to watch the countdown and see the engines roar as we — as Americans — explored the vastness of outer space, by proxy. During Sally Ride’s first trip to space, my young heart skipped a beat.
As the shuttle tore through the sky, I thought about Sally Ride. I dreamt about how we’d fall in love by the stars and get married on the moon. As the rest of the kids in my class wrote letters to NASA talking about how cool the space shuttle was, I wrote a letter professing my love to Sally Ride. I didn’t get a response, but that didn’t deter me.
A year later, Sally Ride and her fellow astronauts took off to the stars once more. This time she was using a Remote Manipulation Arm that deployed satellites into space. I got to watch it live on television.
I was still in love with her…
But it was a different kind of love.
Gone were my daydreams of getting married on the moon and falling in love by the stars. All of that was replaced with this unrelenting sense of awe. Even though she never returned my letter, I realized Sally Ride had given me something far more special. She gave me a key, one which unlocked not just my imagination, but also my lifelong fascination with science.
Sally Ride retired from NASA a few years later. Shortly after her retirement, Ride became a Science Fellow at Stanford where she taught, inspired, and propelled a new generation of explorers.
Yesterday, Sally Ride passed away earlier today due to complications of pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old. Ride is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, as well as by her mother, sister, niece and nephew.
MTVGeek honors her tremendous legacy as a leader, a pioneer, and a teacher.