Her life-size statue stands on the walkway of the Peace Through Strength pavilion on the west side of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library — not far from an F-117 stealth fighter jet, F-14 fighter jet and an Abrams MI tank.

The strength when peace fails.

It arrived by truck two weeks ago and was taken by forklift to a storage unit by facilities manager John Lehne and his assistant manager Derek Lyneis who covered it in a sheet while the foundation was being readied for the big day this Tuesday, the Fourth of July, when it will be unveiled to the public.

Who better to honor the nation’s 247th birthday than the first American woman in space, Sally Ride?

A statue honoring Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, Friday, June 30, 2023. The library is hosting a 4th of July celebration featuring the official unveiling of the Ride statue along with other events and activities. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
A statue honoring Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, CA, Friday, June 30, 2023. The library is hosting a 4th of July celebration featuring the official unveiling of the Ride statue along with other events and activities. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

When the pride of Encino stepped off the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 24, 1983 at Edwards Air Force Base in Palmdale after a six-day mission, little girls across the country watching with their parents on black and white TVs looked up at the stars that night and thought, “Why not me?”

Sally gave them confidence and inspiration. An answer to their dreams. America had its first woman in space. Sally Ride had opened the door they would walk through as women. Move over and make some room for the ladies, gentlemen.

Hers was the second Space Shuttle Challenger mission — STS-7.

Three years later, on the Challenger’s 10th mission, it disintegrated on takeoff killing all seven members on board, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.

Sally’s last mission at NASA was to serve on the presidential commission investigating the disaster. She had a lot of questions that never got answered. It was time to move on. She left NASA for academia.

Since then, more than 50 women have flown on NASA space missions, all of them standing on Sally Ride’s shoulders.

“We went to Kennedy Space Center a few weeks ago for a celebration of her launch 40 years ago,” said Bear Ride, Sally’s younger sister. Her parents named her Karen, but Sally had a hard time pronouncing the name as a little girl.

“It came out sounding like she was saying Bear, so I just kept it and became Bear,” said the Presbyterian minister. “Everyone in the family took it as the last wrong thing Sally ever did.”

At that visit to Kennedy Space Center, the Ride family was given a private tour to meet the women who had risen to leadership positions in NASA.

“Every one of them put their hand to their heart and told us they wouldn’t be here if not for Sally,” Bear said. “That was so moving to us. Whenever Sally talked to school kids, she’d tell her story, show her pictures, and tell the kids to reach for the stars.

“We tend to see her as a trailblazer and hero, and she would reluctantly, after much conversation, perhaps agree to that,” Bear said.

But her sister was a very private person, an introvert. Sally never set out to be a hero or an icon.

“She did it for the love of exploration and for the science she loved,” Bear said. “Plus, she said it was a whole lot of fun.”

Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer at age 61 in 2012, but her spirit lives on. You can find it on the walkway of Peace Through Strength this Fourth of July.

Festivities begin at 10 a.m. at the Reagan Library, with the statue unveiling at noon. Bear will say a few words about the sister she loved who inspired a whole generation of girls to reach for the stars.

The bronze statue of Sally Ride was sculpted by George Lundeen, Mark Lundeen, and in collaboration with artist Joey Bainer. Steven C. Barber, documentary filmmaker, “visioned and conceived the Sally Ride monument,” according to Barber’s LinkedIn page.

If you go: Fourth of July Celebration, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. July 4. Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, 40 Presidential Drive, Simi Valley. www.reaganlibrary.com/events. Flyer with details on the July 4 activities: tinyurl.com/yvtvs89y

Dennis McCarthy’s column runs on Sunday. He can be reached at dmccarthynews@gmail.com.

California

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