Rock stars for scientists, please?

There’s a gal named Sally Ride. She was a hero of mine. Still is, sorta.

Month before last, Russell and Bella and I attended Dr. Ride’s lecture at Texas Hall. Having thoroughly enjoyed last year’s astrophysical, mega-deluxe superstar, Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson, I just KNEW the series spotlight on Sally was going to be the scientific equivalent of getting baptized by Jesus Christ himself on Easter Sunday. After all, when I was a ten year-old girl — like every other ten year-old girl in the USA, I wanted to be Sally Ride.

The Dr. Ride whom I introduced to my middle school daughter this year was not the same woman I wanted to be in 1983. It’s not Ride’s fault I mistakenly characterized her, but my childhood dreams are definitely somewhat deflated now.

Waiting in line to get a book autographed for her science class

"She's not going to dedicate the book to my school, I don't think."

"Yeah, Mom, she just told that girl she won't personalize autographs or let her take a picture with her. Don't ask, please. Let's just go."

"There you go. Your school? No, I'm sorry, but there are people behind you."

Alright, fine. We'll go outside and take a photo without you, Sally Ride. Poor kid.

Okay, it’s not as if Sally Ride is a member of Metallica or Slayer. There were realistically about two hundred parents and kids in line, none of whom wanted their boobs signed or to give her an embarrassing demo or to cut off a lock of her hair to wear around their necks. They were straight-up, past, present, and future science nerds, barely able to get up the courage to ask for her autograph — the same people who’d faint if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates was behind them at Starbucks. After spending almost an hour delivering an account of why our children need to become scientists and mathematicians, Dr. Ride later treated her young fans as if they were a hassle. This, after Dr. Tyson solved Rubik’s Cubes, signed anything fans brought for hours and hours, and camped out into the wee hours chatting with kids whose parents let them stay up past midnight on a school night. Instead and in contrast: (a) no pictures of Sally Ride with the young girls who were interested in attending science programs and (b) pompous explanations that took forever about why books couldn’t be signed to schools and students due to the “long line” [vomit].

Sally Ride’s ass was not shot into outer space through private funding. Taxpayers like me and my parents and my parents’ parents fund(ed) NASA. An astronaut is a designated American role model, like it or not, especially if that astronaut happens to be the first American woman in space or, more importantly, the one who designed and utilized the highly publicized, revolutionary robotic arm on STS 7. Rock stars, many of whom have signed less meaningful ephemera for me than a book about saving the planet, would owe a fan far less than Ride. Still, I’d be willing to bet James Hetfield or Tom Araya would be better ambassadors of science for this next generation, given the way Ride behaved.

When you treat kids like they’re special, they remember your actions rather than your words. I wonder how many future scientists have been derailed by insensitivity? Come on, scientists. Be rock stars when the kids are looking! The young ones aren’t just fans; they’re those who are going to have to resell Mars to the American public. I’d hate to see 70 year-old physicists panhandling for the succeeding of NASA in 2030 just because none of the middle school kids wanted to grow up to be number-crunching assholes.

Breaks my heart to rant like this because — believe it or not — I’ll always love and admire THE remarkable Sally Ride. Without her, I would’ve thought we were all supposed to just be ballerinas in the eighties.


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