The importance of Sally Ride, America's first female astronaut

via NASA

via NASA

Two of my biggest passions in life are feminism and space travel, so naturally I have to share this incredible retrospective on Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

Written by Ann Friedman for The American Prospect, the article explores the burden of being the first American woman in space (back when NASA had no idea how many tampons to send up on her week long trip), and it makes some fantastic observations about the importance of encouraging diversity in STEM fields:

It wasn't until ten years later, after the passage of the Equal Employment Opportunity Act, that NASA, forced to consider women, created a diversity hiring initiative. At around the same time, the agency created a new category of astronaut to join pilots on space flights. This shift meant everything for women. Where astronauts had previously been culled from the ranks of male fighter pilots, a "mission specialist" could be any highly trained individual with relevant expertise. NASA put out an open call, encouraging women and minorities to apply with ads in Ebony and appeals to the Society of Women Engineers. This effort resulted in the Stanford Daily headline that caught Sally Ride's eye: "NASA to Recruit Women."

 At a time when we're still trying to figure out how to diversify math and sciences, and the tech industry is known for sexism as much as innovation, this is an important lesson. Ride was not a woman who decided she wanted to be an astronaut, ignored the fact that the program only appealed to men, and broke through by her willpower. She was an incredibly smart woman, well suited to a career in the space program, who never considered applying until a NASA effort convinced her—and women like her—that it was a possibility.

The full article is available over on The American Prospect.