History & Culture

Ronald Reagan, Sally Ride, and America


What we call “news” is so warped. Hard to say why, but you know it is true. Here is a story to warm your heart – and remind you that the pathbreaker for many professional women was not Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, Clinton, Obama, Biden, or any other credit-taker. It was none other than Ronald Reagan. Reagan? Yes.  

You will know that Reagan put the first woman on the US Supreme Court (Sandra Day O’Connor), but did you know he was the first president since Eisenhower to place a woman in his cabinet. He appointed four high-ranking women, Elizabeth Dole (later presidential candidate), Margaret Heckler (HHS, loved the jellybeans), Jeanne Kirkpatrick (UN Ambassador scholar extraordinaire, former teacher of mine), and Millicent Fenwick (who, if memory served, smoked a pipe).  

But this month is the anniversary of another first for women – which Reagan made possible. Former Challenger shuttle astronaut, Sally Ride, became the first woman astronaut in 1983. 

Ronald Reagan made a point of expanding on her accomplishment in a national radio address, saying she was “another example of the great strides women have made in our country.” 

And she was. She was a physicist who could have done anything. She was so good at tennis that she was number one at Stanford. Billy Jean King urged her to go pro, but she had other plans. In time, she would prove women could do anything – and started that process by getting selected one of 35 from 8000 applicants. Training for a mission, she perfected a robotic satellite rescue arm. 

The 1983 Challenger mission commander, Robert Crippen, did not care whether she was a woman – he wanted her because she was the best physicist/engineer in the lot, knew her job better than anyone. She went. She flew again two years later.  

Life is full of sad, curious, unfathomable ironies. Three years after her first flight on Challenger, she was on the investigation team – helping unpack the worst space disaster in American history, the Challenger explosion in 1986. Reagan spoke – and said that crew had “slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” None of us alive now, who were alive them, can forget the day. 

Ride was all about empowering young women, and especially in math and science. She did with enthusiasm. She was both a product of and a believer in the American Dream. She was never one to make excuses, make a symbol of herself, question the power of one person to change history – with determination, hard work, merit at the core, and a dream. 

Maybe that is the merger of Reagan and Ride, the principle that binds them – and should lift, empower, and bind us. They both believed in the American Dream. They believed that one person can make all the difference. They asked no more than a chance, and once they had the chance, they never let go. What is more, as a matter of who they were, they pulled others up and along – Ride inspiring other women to go into space, Reagan inspiring young conservatives to believe in their country. 

Let it not be said, on this 38th anniversary of Ride’s ride into space, that we are not a nation that dreams big and makes those dreams come true. We were in their day, we are now, and with fidelity to the past and future, no one reading this – man or women, scientist or political thinker – should doubt we can be. 

Sometimes, you just have to forsake the news and believe – in the beauty of America. 

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Victoria Johnson
5 months ago

We’re in a race to the bottom now. The current administration’s goal is to make us just another mediocre, unaccomplished country among all the rest in the world. America is ‘evil’ and doesn’t ‘deserve’ anything more.

5 months ago

Sally Ride is also the earliest space traveler to be recognized as LGBT. A great legacy indeed.

Cathy L Neubauer
5 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Her sexual orientation does not matter and didn’t play a part in her successes. Her ability and character is what matters.

5 months ago

It matters to all the other LGBT people before her who were told they couldn’t achieve their dreams because of their sexual orientation.

But you’re right: ability and character is what matters, so discrimination on the basis of sexuality is wrong. Thank you for having the courage to say that on this website.

5 months ago
Reply to  Nick

Why did you have to say “on this website”? You are insinuating any and all Conservatives are against gay people. I am just tired of hearing about it day in and day out. Past decades it was to be a personal matter and people didn’t need everyone’s approval of the type of sex they chose. They just went about their business like Sally Ride.

5 months ago
Reply to  Mandy

There are about 175 angry comments on another article on this site about trans people being allowed to compete in sports, so I’m pretty sure AMAC in general is a long way from being any kind of ally.

And since same-sex marriage was only legalized nationwide a few years ago, yes, as a mater of fact, queer people DID need approval and our country refused to give it to them. And that’s just one issue among many.

Talk to a gay person in your life and ask them if they think things are just fine, or if there’s still a long way to go.

5 months ago

Truly a sad day when the Challenger was lost, I and my crew were the main support unit during the launch and flight when the pilot said: The Challenger just blew up.” Sometimes our heroes and heroines don’t get the recognition that they deserve.

Bill on the Hill
5 months ago

A powerful story of determination… Sally Ride, a genuine American hero with the smarts & grit to back it up…
Bill on the Hill…:~)

Stephen Russell
5 months ago

To Honor Sally Ride:
Science Center
Tech Center
STEM Center
Business Seedbank
Hwy, Rd, Ave, Ct, Circle, Blvd

5 months ago

What you’re describing is the difference between doers and talkers. Doers say they will do something and then go about finding a way, no matter the obstacles, to get things done. They take risks and push the envelope to deliver the results they promised. Reagan was a doer just as Trump was a doer. Talkers on the other hand talk a good line, but that is about it. Talkers just read pretty speeches written for them by their staffs and then do absolutely NOTHING to make what they talked about happen or even worse actually deliver the exact opposite of what they promised. That sadly describes a majority of the politicians you listed in your article.

5 months ago
Reply to  PaulE

Trump said Mexico was going to pay for the wall and THEY DID! I believe it in my heart. When people ask me where the proof is, I just tell them where they can stick their “proof” — GET RIGHT WITH JESUS OR GET LEFT IN H*LL!

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