Sally Ride : America’s First Woman in Space (Book Review)

Book CoverI wish I were a more eloquent writer, to do better justice to this book.  I enthusiastically recommend it to your attention.  It not only portrays Sally Ride’s career but also offers insights into what it takes to become, and perform as, an astronaut.

This is an engrossing biography of Sally Ride, who became the first woman astronaut for NASA.  Sally was good enough at tennis that she once played Billy Jean King, the reigning world leader of woman’s tennis.  But Ride’s true calling was as a physicist.  While studying at Stamford University, she applied for the astronaut program as a technical specialist, and was eventually selected as one of six women to join NASA’s select cadre.  Shy and introverted, Sally was chosen to fly on a 1983 shuttle flight as America’s first woman in space.

For those who may not know, Flight STS-51L of the Shuttle Challenger launched on its ninth mission at 11:38am ET on 28 January 1986.  It was 36 degrees on the ground at the launch site, 15 degrees colder than at any previous launch.  A gap in an O-ring seal on the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) resulted from the cold temperatures and launch conditions, and hot propellant gases escaped from this gap starting 0.8 second after launch.  Puffs of smoke were seen, and flames appeared near this point 58 seconds into the flight. The flame burned the External Tank, which was breached at 64 seconds.  At 72 seconds the strut linking the Solid Rocket Booster to the External Tank severed.  The Challenger exploded at 73 seconds while traveling at Mach 1.9 at 46,000 foot altitude.  No one survived.

Explosion of the Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L)

Explosion of the Shuttle Challenger (STS-51L)

Ride participated on the Rogers Commission, a Presidential Review Board for the Challenger disaster.  The biography states that an engineer slipped Ride information on the O-rings, which Ride passed on to Richard Feynman.  Feynman was able to present the O-ring information in a dramatic way without the political complications that might have resulted if presented by a NASA official and astronaut.

Ride became an icon in America, representing NASA and the United States around the world.  She led the rewriting of NASA’s long range plans.  Ride used her fame and popularity to advance education of young people, especially encouraging girls to enter the sciences.

Highly recommended.

Click here to open Sally Ride : America’s First Woman in Space Amazon Page


Sally Ride (Wikipedia)

“Report of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident” (The Rogers Commission, 1986)

Inside Space Shuttle Challenger STS-51L During The Accident (video of explosion and cause analysis)


Lynn Sherr talks about “Sally Ride” — YouTube

Sally Ride Science

Scientific American book review

Washington Post book review

NPR Interview with Lynn Sherr

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Mark Bobb

Mark Bobb loves to travel and do photography in his free time.

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