Monday, July 23, 2012

RIP Sally Ride—but do you know her big Star Trek Moment?

It was January 10, 1995, and Star Trek: Voyager was just days away from becoming not only Star Trek's first true network series since the orignal... but also the first in the franchise to feature another groundbreaking casting choice: a female captain, Kathryn Janeway.

For the highly anticipated cast and crew premiere screening at Paramount, the UPN honchos and Voyager co-creators Rick Berman, Michael Piller and Jeri Taylor (in background) joined new lead Kate Mulgrew—whose Janeway role had been the brainchild of Taylor—and made sure to make a little history that night as well.

Who else to honor on such an auspicious night for the world's biggest space adventure and its first female regular captain .... than America's first female astronaut and high-flying gender pioneer, Dr. Sally K. Ride?

(I was there that night in the front press row, a recent arrival in LA myself, and I'm danged if I can locate my good original photos this second. Instead, here's the studio photog's image we ran in Communicator/Issue 101—so apologies for the print-screen.)

Ride passed away today of pancreatic cancer at 61, having made her mark at age 31 in 1983 as American's first woman in space, and then-youngest ever, at age 32. She left NASA in 1987 after nine years and one more mission, with a third mission postponed by the Challenger disaster and her sitting on the accident's review commission. She resigned to work at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control, as her spot in history will always be assured.

But back on the Paramount Pictures main theater stage in 1995, after honoring Ride for such contributions to space exploration, Mulgrew presented her with a plaque and combadge from the show's sets so Ride "could beam up whenever she felt the need to." In line with the historic mutual love affair overall between Star Trek and NASA—America's fictional and real-life space heroes—Ride's remarks that night revealed she was suitably touched and honored to be a part of another landmark for women in culture.

Ride even had a second and earlier link to the franchise, of course, in that she was in the group of new astronauts chosen from among women and minorities recruited by the NASA program Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols headed in the 1970s-80s.


Jeff said...

I was 8 years old when Sally Ride boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger and made history. Sally Ride was the first Astronaut I had ever really known. The names Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Tom Hanks would come to me later in life, but back then my world was limited. I was at the age where I began to question everything. Why is the sky blue? How do planes stay in the air? Where do babies come from? I was discovering the world and space was becoming real. The moon wasn't cheese and rocket ships were more than just toys.

Media coverage was high in '83. The Shuttle still had that new car smell and apparently sending a woman into space was something a lot of people of the day questioned and as such every newscast about the launch was accompanied by her picture. Of course I didn't know any better. I was young and relatively innocent. What my eyes saw was a group of genuine space heroes, action figures come to life, and Sally Ride was their face. To me this meant that she must have been really special. It was only later, as an adult, I found out just how right I was.

In the end these were astronauts and that big beautiful spaceship was my imagination made manifest, solid... real. And for that 8 year old boy from the Midwest one fact was made crystal clear. I could do anything, be anything because now, thanks to Sally Ride, not even the sky was the limit.

Thank you Sally.

Larry Nemecek said...


My goodness, thank you for finding me, and posting such a heartfelt rush of emotion. That was an incredible thing to share. Sally's passing took me aback as well, but it was much more formative to you. About the same as Apollo 11 AND 13, etc, were for me.