I’ve heard reporters belch some stupid questions over the years.
But former ABC News correspondent Lynn Sherr just might have found the bottom of that regrettable pit.
Just before astronaut Sally Ride’s historic 1983 launch, Sherr heard some of her male NASA-covering counterparts ask the space trainee:
Aren’t you worried about being in space with all those men?
Do you wish you were a boy?
When the going gets tough, do you weep?
“There were still people who couldn’t figure out what women were doing in space,” Sherr says of the time. “Sally knew perfectly well what she was going to do in space which was to do her job well, period.”
Dopey displays of male mind manure pepper Sherr’s biography of Ride, published last year.
The author spoke at this year’s Savannah Book Festival.
I sat down with Sherr to ask more salient questions.
For example, what made Ride – among more than 8,000 male and female applicants in her class – rocket to the top to become America’s first woman in space?
“She had as much of ‘The Right Stuff’ as the military test pilots did,” Sherr says. “All of the pilots that she flew with told me, the military guys, that she was the best student pilot they had ever worked with.”
Ride’s ascent began when she read a headline in the Stanford University newspaper: “NASA To Recruit Women.”
The year was 1977 and the women’s movement already had made great strides.
“NASA was a little late to the party,” Sherr says. “Once they got there, however, they did it right.”
Ride was a scientist and tennis player by education and training.
Super serious, intensely driven and tight lipped, her personality fit right in with the moxy of Houston.
“She was an introvert,” Sherr says. “This carried her through so much of what she did.”
That’s because astronauts don’t like being asked about their personal lives.
And they keep a distance between their minds and unpleasant truths around them.
(Being strapped inside a candle stick with a million pounds of fuel underneath you might do that to you.)
These traits cut both ways for Ride.
“She also understood when she was chosen to be the first American woman in space that she was going to have to be a public figure,” Sherr says. “But it cost her a lot.”
Ride hated the press.
She had to psyche up for the frequent interviews.
Her friendship with Sherr was the exception.
Then you had the secret matter of Ride’s life partner.
Twelve words in Ride’s 2012 obituary revealed their relationship:
“Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.”
To her credit, Sherr doesn’t footnote one of the most important people in Ride’s biography, even though that’s how the astronaut herself preferred it in life.
Ride blessed her posthumous outing on her death bed.
“Sally didn’t want this out while she was alive,” she says. “But after she was dead, she was fine with it.”
O’Shaughnessy’s stories color inside the lines of the astronaut’s image.
They makes Ride less of a headline and more of a human being.
And this isn’t the first time Sherr has fleshed out inspiring woman in print.
She previous wrote a biography of legendary suffragist Susan B. Anthony.
“My entire professional career has been things that I just love to cover, everything from the space program to politics, to the women’s movement,” she says. “Now that I’m just writing books, I really only write books about things that get my juices flowing.”
She’s certainly passionate.
And I’m glad this passion brought a little bit of space magic to Savannah.