Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Sally’s Ride: A Star in Space — and on Earth

June 4, 2008

For many of us who have been in education, struggling with student achievement scores and dealing with technology advances, 1983 doesn't seem that long ago. Yet, incredibly, on June 18 it will be twenty-five years ago that a brilliant, determined, and courageous astronaut, Sally Ride, became the first American woman to fly in space. Ride, who has two doctorate degrees in physics, served as mission specialist on the second U.S. space shuttle, Challenger, for two of nine successful missions before its tragic launch accident in 1986.

During the space shuttle flights, Ride would engage in diverse science experiments such as measuring energy levels traveling bidirectionally between the sun and Earth, doing materials science and pharmaceutical tests, and observing our planet. As a mission specialist, she used the shuttle's robotic arm, deployed and retrieved a free-flying communication satellite, and released the Earth Radiation Budget satellite, which provided data on the ozone layer for almost twenty years.

The summer following the Challenger tragedy, Ride authored a report, NASA Leadership and America's Future in Space, in which she warned that as a nation, we were far behind where we should be in exploring Mars and establishing space stations. She cautioned that "leadership cannot simply be proclaimed -- it must be earned."

Sally Ride is a born leader. She recognizes what has to be done and does it. She has earned the right (the hard way) to celebrate her twenty-five years as a role model to generations of young women who want to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering. In 2001, she formed Imaginary Lines, a company dedicated to the establishment of science programs, festivals, and publications in communities for students in grades 5-8. Two years later, Ride was inducted into the Kennedy Space Center's Astronaut Hall of Fame, one of many honors she has received during her distinguished career.

Originally, the focus for the Sally Ride Science Festivals was to encourage girls to go into the science and math fields, but the scope has expanded to include both genders. TOYchallenge, another program, brings teams of students together to compete against kids from other schools in designing a new toy or game. Past competitions have produced such innovative devices as Bop the Bird (by students from Brighton, Michigan), School Survivor (by students from Weston, Connecticut), and Toy University (by students from Irvine, California).

An excellent Internet-based video on the science festival, held at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), captures the excitement, the wonder, the pride, and the innovation of students engaged in thinking about their world in new dimensions. One student explains patiently to a news reporter that because no one has ever solved the mathematical mystery of pi, she is going to do so.

Sally Ride Science Camps, where kids can explore STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) on a college campus, will happen again this year at Stanford University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of San Diego, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Caltech.

I encourage you wholeheartedly to explore what this remarkable scientist, investigator, educator, advocate, author, designer, and first woman adventurer in space has accomplished in twenty-five years. It is certainly beyond my imagination to figure out what she will be able to accomplish in the next twenty-five.

I look forward to hearing from you about which parts of this blog excite you as much as they excited me, and please read the second part of this post.

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  • 6-8 Middle School

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