Success and Trauma – Three Women in Space



“If you don’t build your dream, someone else will hire you to help them build theirs.”  Dhirubhai Ambani

When we think of how far women have advanced there are several benchmarks – Women suffrage was the beginning ratifying the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution on August 18, 1920. There is also the overly generic 2014 data proclaiming that we as females still earn 79 cents compared to a male’s dollar, all other occupational circumstances being equal.

What escapes us is all the stuff in between which females often endure on the way to achieving success. When great success is achieved, often we are held up to impossible standards, models of society without infallibility or the high risk that tragedy can also befall us. Three such examples happen to be affiliated with the space program. This blog serves to summarize and illustrate that anything can happen no matter how much you achieve, so be humble, stay grounded, remember your roots, remain strong and always treat others well!

Christa McAuliffe- Educator – “First U.S .Teacher in Space” 

(Born September 2, 1948, –Died- January 28, 1986) was an American teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, one of the seven crew members killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Christa McAuliffe
Christa McAuliffe

As an educator in high school, she became a social studies teacher, and taught several courses including American history, law, and economics, in addition to a self-designed course: “The American Woman Taking field trips and bringing in speakers were an important part of her teaching techniques. According to   a New York Times article, she “emphasized the impact of ordinary people on history, believing that “they were as important to the historical record as kings, politicians or generals.”

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan announced the Teacher in Space Project, NASA’s efforts to find the first civilian, an educator, to fly into space. Christa appeared to fit the qualifications as  a gifted teacher who could communicate with students while in orbit. In fact, she applied and rose to the top of the roster of more than 11,000 applicants.

The Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident  known as the Rogers Commission investigated the disaster. It determined that the accident was due to a failure of rubber O-rings that provided a pressure seal in the aft field joint of the shuttle’s right solid rocket booster. The failure of the O-rings was attributed to a design flaw, as their performance could be too easily compromised by factors including low temperatures on the day of launch.

The low temperature at launch—36 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees lower than the next coldest previous launch and the failure of the O-Ring was the mechanical reason for death. However, I have always felt that the person responsible for the decision to lift off despite the cold temperatures showed depraved indifference to life, put profits before safety and should have been prosecuted for mass murder!  Who can forget the pain of recognition on Christa’s mother’s face as her parents Grace and Ed Corrigan as well as children looked to the sky in horror with 7 lives “go up in a plume of smoke.”

YouTube   Live Video;

I read this book years ago and highly recommend it-

Sally Ride- First American Woman in Space

(Born May 26, 1951-, Died- on July 23, 2012 at age 61)

Sally Ride
Sally Ride

Sally Ride grew up in Los Angeles and went to Stanford University, where she was a double major in physics and English. She achieved a Ph.D. in Physics in 1978.  The timing was right for NASA, as they wanted to actively recruit scientists to perform experiments in space versus having a roster of female astronauts. In 1983, Los Angeles-based Ride became the First American Woman in Space” , aboard the space shuttle Challenger as a result of being the top candidate among 1,000 applicants   spot in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) astronaut program.

Sally was able to serve as a mission specialist, in June and October but as the third excursion was canceled due to the Challenger disaster in January 1986.

She had a partner, a woman named Tam O’Shaughnessy, even though the two women had been together for nearly 30 years. Even in 1983, Sally Ride was closeted from the public and good friend and reporter- author Lynne Sherr.

Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the space shuttle explosion. In fact, she got access to the report about the malfunctioning O-ring on the Challenger and gave it to another member…and that’s how the truth came out!

Sally was a superstar college tennis player who chose physics over a sports career, and highly intelligent.  Sherr postulated that Sally’s ability to operate the Challenger’s robot arm and superior hand-eye coordination probably helped her beat out the other astronauts vying to be the first American women in space.  Sally also declined at least two opportunities under two Presidents to be a NASA Administrator.  And finally – Sally Ride coordinated a program in which middle school students could snap photos of the moon from NASA’s two GRAIL spacecraft. The site on the moon was named in her honor!

Tragically, Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012.  As a group, pancreatic cancers come with a very low survival rate — 75 percent of patients die less than a year after diagnosis, and 94 percent die within five years, – cancer often escapes early detection because patients display few warning signs that anything is wrong. When patients do experience symptoms, they are often vague aches and pains, such as indigestion or back pain that can be attributed to other ailments. This cancer is very resistant to chemotherapy treatments. Such a huge loss for mankind! RIP, Sally!

Book by Journalist Lynn Sherr; “Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space”

Lisa Nowak:  A Woman with so much Promise – A Fall from Grace

Lisa Nowak
Lisa Nowak

(Born in May 1963) A Navel Flight Officer and Astronaut who succumbed to a love relationship that proved to be her downfall, leaving a permanent stain on the NASA program, but also in a strange way served to tighten up  screening procedures and attend to the stress and mental health needs of all NASA employees. She qualified as a mission specialist and flew in space in 2006, for 13 days.

Lisa was ‘dismissed”, not deceased. She lived in Washington DC, was married in 1988 to a classmate in the Naval Academy and Flight School. She and her husband Richard have three children. Working closely with colleague William Oefelein, they began an affair for ~ 2 years that escalated out of control when Mr. Oefelein attempted to break off the affair.  By all accounts, Lisa was a perfectionist, obsessed with her job, not attending to the stress that she was under. Her solace was an affair that could not continue. Oefelein had begun a relationship with an engineer, Coleen Shipman. Lisa would not take no for an answer, planned a long distance trip cross-country with survivalist equipment, in an effort to confront Ms. Shipman at the Orlando airport, on February 7, 2007. Lisa was distraught, demanded her attention   assaulting her with pepper spray. Ultimately, she was charged with attempted first-degree murder with a deadly weapon, kidnapping, and what amounted to stalking.

On the defense side, they claimed Lisa suffered from major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, insomnia, a “brief psychotic disorder” and Asperger’s Syndrome. With much legal back and forth, in the end, Lisa was sentenced to a year’s probation a two days previously served in jail. The Navy also ruled to offer an “other than honorable” discharge. She was successful in getting her record sealed for the sake of her future livelihood.  Let’s hope that she received a healthy dose of counseling and medication.

To get the “straight scoop” on this true account, I recommend Diane Fanning’s Book, “Out There”, years ago on an airplane.

 “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Thomas A. Edison



One comment

  1. […] This narrative is not meant to give away the story as a whole, the plot or the most emotional moments of the film, of which there are many. Rather, it is meant to say that these women played very non-traditional roles in compassion to those white women who rose through the ranks through the usual channels in a man’s world featured in my previous blog, Success and Trauma-Three Women in Space. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s