Astronaut Sally Ride was a very private person, a tough position to keep for someone so famous, an icon for the women's movement and hero of many children. Being the first American woman in space in 1983 put her in the national spotlight and subjected her to media attention for several years. Offered publishing contracts, she resisted writing anything more than a few magazine articles and a children's book about herself, and those writings can be described as more inspirational than personally revealing. She kept her affairs private. So, it was a surprise to the public when her obituary revealed that she enjoyed a long same-sex relationship.
Two years after her death, Ride is the subject of a biography by one of the journalists who closely followed her career from her early days at NASA. Lynn Sherr also counted herself as one of Ride's friends, having often had dinner with her over the course of nearly 30 years. In Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space, Sherr admits that even she knew nothing about her friend's secret relationship.
While Ride's sexual orientation may now be the topic that may bring many readers to Sherr's book, it is not the overriding focus of the biography. Even Ride's initial trip into space is just an episode (though a very important episode) right at the halfway point in the book. Sherr takes a look at all of Ride's life, showing how her subject identified herself more as an athlete, physicist, and educator than astronaut, not exactly the person the media portrayed.
Because Sherr says so much about America from the 1950s to the present, the biography Sally Ride serves as a portrait of all of us, showing the way we reacted to Ride's fame and now to her death. Sympathetic to Ride, never sensational, this new biography may help us understand the way we treat science, celebrity, and controversy.
Sherr, Lynn. Sally Ride: America's First Woman in Space. Simon and Schuster, 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781476725765.