How Sally Ride shattered the ultimate glass ceiling
Thirty-five years ago, Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly into space.
Before blasting off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in June 1983 she faced intense media speculation about how being a woman would affect her as an astronaut.
Would she need to wear a bra in space?
How would she go to the bathroom?
“Everybody wanted to know what kind of makeup I was taking,” she later told Gloria Steinem. “The worst question was whether I cried when we got malfunctions in the simulator.”
The 35 new guys
For the first 20 years of space exploration, having the ‘right stuff’ to be an astronaut meant being a man.
NASA required its astronauts to be military jet test pilots, a rule that kept women from qualifying. Nothing changed, even after a privately-funded effort found that female pilots did as well — and often better — on the physical stress tests given to male astronaut trainees. Women finally became eligible when NASA dropped the military requirement and began looking for science skills.
Ride, a physicist, was finishing up her doctorate at Stanford when she saw an ad in the school paper inviting women to apply for NASA mission specialist positions and decided to go for it.
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