In 1983, she rode the space shuttle Challenger into history and became the first American woman in space. Today, Sally Ride is doing her part to encourage young women to enter science and math fields through her company Sally Ride Science.
She talks about life on other planets, our own planet's predicament and that of Lisa Marie Nowak, the astronaut accused of attempted murder. Dr. Ride was in Pittsburgh recently for the United Way of Allegheny County Women's Leadership Council event.
Q:Once you were accepted into the space program, was it a goal to be the first woman in space?
No, actually it wasn't. To be honest, I really didn't think about being the first woman to get to go.
Q:And you had no claustrophobic issues?
(Laughing) No I didn't. Probably a good thing?
Q:Have the requirements changed much since you entered the program?
They really haven't changed very much. NASA is really still looking for astronauts with test pilot backgrounds and astronauts with science and engineering backgrounds.
Q:Were you surprised by the Lisa Marie Nowak story?
You know, I didn't know her. I never met her. I think it was a very tragic story. I was certainly surprised by it as were all the other astronauts by all accounts who knew her. I think this is just one of those cases where people are people and people occasionally snap.
Q:Does weightlessness have the same effect on men as women?
It appears to. Each person reacts to it a little bit differently initially. A little bit different physiologically, initially, but most of those differences disappear after a day or two. Near as we can tell, men and women seem to respond pretty much the same. It seems about half the astronauts get space sick for a day or two, and half don't. I was in the lucky half.
Q:What does it feel like to come back into the Earth's gravity?
It actually feels really weird. Your body has become very used to weightlessness. Your body likes weightlessness. So everything feels really heavy. Your movements are just a little sluggish until your brain gets used to it again.
Q:Did you ever do a space walk?
I never did. My second space flight I was joined on the flight by Kathy Sullivan. We were the first flight with two women on board, and Kathy got the space walk on that flight and she became the first American woman to do the space walk.
Q:You've said the Earth looks very fragile from space, and you can see pollution. Is there time to reverse the damage?
I think that there is still time to mitigate the effects. We know that the climate is changing and that people are responsible for it. We know that it is a problem that is only going to get worse until we make some pretty serious changes in the way that we live and the way that we work and the types of energy that we use. If we can get moving immediately, we can mitigate those changes and keep a planet that looks like the one we've gotten used to.
Q:Do UFOs exist? Have you ever seen anything you couldn't explain?
No, actually I can't say that I have. And I haven't talked to any astronauts who have. I personally believe that we have not yet been visited by UFOs.
Q:What about the idea of life outside of our planet. Is that possible in your estimation?
It's very possible, and I actually think it's very likely. We learned over the last 10 to 15 years that life is very, very hardy. So primitive, microscopic life, once it gets started, really grabs on. There may or may not be primitive life in our solar system. There might be on Mars. There might be on one of the moons of Jupiter. We don't know, but we also have discovered that there are lots and lots, we are talking thousands of millions, of planets out there around other stars. The odds are really good that life has started on some of those other planets.
Q:In the scientific community there are those who believe we will have to colonize other planets.
I think that it's definitely likely that we will expand to develop settlements on other planets. Mars is really the only one nearby that makes much sense in the near term. But I would prefer to think that -- believe me -- it is going to be much easier to save our conditions on Earth then it is to transform Mars into something that looks even remotely like a livable Earth. Talk about environmental problems. There's no breathable air on Mars (laughing).