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First woman in space had roots in DL

Sally Ride's niece, Caitlin Ride, from left, nephew Whitney Scott, Susan Craig (Karen Ride's spouse), Karen 'Bear' Ride and Joyce Ride (seated) visit Washington, D.C., for Medal of Freedom ceremony. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and NASA’s youngest astronaut, had roots that reached back to this area.

Sally’s mother Joyce Ride grew up in Detroit Lakes and is the daughter of Andy Anderson, who was a prominent DL businessman.

This past weekend, Joyce, and Sally’s sister Karen “Bear” Ride were back in town visiting, and sat down to discuss the memories and legacy that Sally left behind.

“She was such an easy person to be with, she had no airs about her… Sally would be glad to tell you anything,” Bear said.

“If you knew the right questions to ask,” added Joyce, adding that getting all the details from Sally wasn’t always easy.

Sally, who died from pancreatic cancer in 2012 at age 61, preferred to keep a distance between her public and private personas.

In June of this year, a biography entitled “Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space,” was published. Written by Sally’s longtime friend, journalist Lynn Sherr, the books gives insight into the life Sally led largely out of the public eye.

Many of those who knew Sally well contributed details to the book, recounting stories and describing the woman they knew and loved.

And some of those details came as a surprise even to her family.

“I didn’t know the full story of her meeting with (Svetlana) Savitskaya,” Bear said about the 1983 rendezvous between Sally and the Russian cosmonaut.

With tensions running high between the two nations, the State Department had forbidden any meetings between representatives from the two space programs during a post-flight European tour.

However, one such meeting did take place in Budapest between Sally and Savitskaya, who were just the second and third women ever to fly in space.

The book describes an instant comradery between the pair, with common experiences and struggles as women in a male-dominated field trumping international politics.

The story is just one of many that paint a picture of Sally’s life.

“It’s a remarkably thick book,” said Joyce, for someone who was so private.

In her book, Sherr cites that privacy as one of the reasons why Sally never penned her own autobiography.

However, with support from Sally’s longtime partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, as well as

Joyce and Bear, they decided that it was long past time for Sally’s story to be told.

Along with a life rich in previously untold nuance, Sally also left behind an organization that bears her name, and her dedication to expanding the horizons of young students.

Sally Ride Science, founded in 2001, aims to kindle a passion for science, technology, engineering and mathematics for students in upper-elementary and middle school. Particularly for girls, who still face some of the same barriers in STEM related careers that Sally had to overcome.

“When you see it, you can do it,” Bear said about the conferences put on by Sally Ride Science, which bring together prominent women in STEM careers and students with similar goals and aspirations.

Since the company’s beginning, Bear said they’ve put on more than 100 conferences around the country. Sally was the keynote speaker at many of the initial events, and got other female astronauts to come and share their experiences with students.

They are “igniting the imaginations of girls,” Bear said.

Sally also served on investigative teams formed in the wakes of the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

On Nov. 20, 2013, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Sally the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The medal marks the highest civilian award in the United States. O’Shaughnessy accepted the award on Sally’s behalf.

Sally’s family was also in attendance for the award ceremony, which took place at the White House.

And though they don’t often come back to visit the area, Joyce said she has good memories about growing up in Detroit Lakes

“I think my favorite thing was (water) skiing,” said Joyce.

Graduating from Detroit Lakes High School in 1941, Joyce also participated in the marching band. She played the baritone sax, which wasn’t the easiest fit.

“I was five feet tall at the time,” she said, adding that the instrument was nearly as tall as she was.

After her first year of college, her father moved the family to California where she later met and married Dale Ride, Sally’s father.

“I think he had the right idea,” Joyce said with a laugh about her father’s decision to move, adding that she doesn’t miss Minnesota’s cold winters.

Now she visits only occasionally, noting how many things have changed over the years.

And she has a smile as she speaks about Sally, whose life serves as an example to so many young women and men who face barriers and adversity as they pursue their dreams.

“She had an interesting life,” Joyce said simply, and a legacy which will continue to inspire.