Dr. Sally Ride, an extraordinary woman, a legendary astronaut and a leadership pioneer died last week to little or no fanfare. I kept waiting for the front-page newspaper encomium that would outline her many accomplishments and the breadth of her influence. But that didn’t happen. And then it struck me: perhaps mainstream newspapers are hesitant to highlight the accomplishments of true, known heroes, for fear that the current corral of candidates, congressmen and political operatives who seem to hog the headlines these days look downright puny in comparison.
Sally Ride was a scholar, an astronaut and an entrepreneur. Her degrees from Stanford, B.S., M.A. and a Ph.D. in Physics were clear proof of her brilliance and dedication to science. And, in the 70s, a time when many women were just beginning to enter male-dominated fields, Sally was a standout. What many people may not know is that Sally was also an English major at Stanford, and it was perhaps her superb ability to communicate, both verbally and in writing, that translated the complexity of science into everyday language to inspire new generations of kids who wanted to be astronauts and captivated the public.
As the first American woman to enter earth orbit in space, Sally became a thing of legend. And she used her fame and her knowledge for good.
In 1987, Sally Ride wrote a report for NASA, expressing her concerns that NASA had begun deviating from its core mission. She urged a stronger focus on space travel, outposts on the moon and, eventually, travel to Mars. The report was not well received by the NASA bureaucracy and Sally Ride retired and became a professor at Stanford.
But Sally was right to call her report NASA Leadership & America’s Future in Space. NASA had, and continues, to stray from its core mission. The U.S. space program has, essentially, been canceled. Instead of pushing the agency to focus on its core mission and core competencies, Obama has allowed NASA to take itself out of the space business, and thus take the country out of space for the next 30 years.
Worse, to put a man in space, America will now be required to pay Russia for shuttle space. Not too surprisingly, Russia has already stepped forward and declared that the next decade will be "the era of the Soyuz" as Russian space exploration continues.