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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sally Ride (1951-2012)

I'm saddened by the loss of Sally Ride, astronaut, scientist, educator and (last and least) former president of Space.com, where she and I were colleagues in 1999-2000. I've written elsewhere about the management of Space.com but would like to point out here that Sally was a class act; indeed, her reasonableness upon being approached with some employee grievances misled me into thinking such approaches might work with that company's top executives more broadly.

She was a decent, thoughtful person albeit a bit aloof. She had concerns about the quality of the science journalism at Space.com, and such concerns were inevitable, given that the company had set up an "Area 51" UFO channel on the website (in the erroneous belief that scientists wouldn't notice or mind such material appearing a couple of clicks away from the astronomy coverage). To make a long story short, Sally was a poor match for Space.com but that reflects on broader circumstances more than on her particular talents, of which there were many.

I didn't know she was gay -- and yet, I sort of knew; I have some vague memory of somebody saying something that suggested that, and I gave it no further thought. Her death has inspired some chin-stroking about feminism, and a typically, tediously, contrarian Slate piece (with any valid point lost behind a fatuous headline). Her life story does not serve well for knee-jerk victimology.

My favorite story about Sally Ride, something I read long ago, had to do with her fixing a broken car in the desert with the cardboard from a roll of toilet paper, if memory serves. This was somebody you'd want in a space shuttle next to you, and in many other situations where the stakes are high and you need someone with intellect and judgment to spare.

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