Sally Ride was completing her doctorate in physics in the late
1970s when she stumbled upon a NASA advertisement in Stanford
University’s student newspaper looking for astronauts.
Applying with 8,000 others, she was one of 35 applicants and the
first woman to embark on a NASA space mission.

This opportunity not only allowed her to fulfill her childhood
dream of flying in space, but now motivates her to become an
inspiration for future generations of young girls.

Recognizing the importance of encouragement at a young age, Ride
has started multiple initiatives that motivate young women to get
involved in the scientific world, both in and out of school.

Ride went on to be the first American female to travel in space,
but her connection to the scientific world began much earlier she
told to 800 parents and their children at Pierpont Commons on North
Campus yesterday,

As a young girl, Ride said she always had a passion for math and
science. “I was lucky because my parents never discouraged
me,” she said.

Yesterday’s Third Annual Sally Ride Science Festival is
just one example of her efforts to inspire young women to pursue
fields of science.

The festival is specifically geared toward fifth- through
eighth-grade girls. Ride said two-thirds of boys and girls in the
fourth grade are interested in science, but starting in fifth
grade, girls lose interest in much greater numbers than boys.

“Girls are affected by lingering stereotypes or a teacher
who doesn’t believe a girl should be an electrical engineer.
It’s important to be accepted by friends, and girls start to
lose self-confidence,” Ride said. “We focus on that
group to show that there are lots of girls out there just like them
that are interested in this stuff and also to introduce them to
female role models.”

This year, the festival gave girls the opportunity to explore
science at multiple booths with interactive activities for the
participants.

At one booth, professors from Eastern Michigan University helped
girls use water and antacid tablets to simulate the physics of
rocket explosions. At another, the University of Michigan Solar Car
Team exhibited their latest vehicle, with three female members of
the team serving to demonstrate a fun and interesting way for young
women to be involved in engineering. The New Detroit Science Center
also contributed a booth equipped with a simulation telescopes for
safe sun-gazing.

The event also marked the launch of TOYchallenge 2005, a
competition where teams of children can design and build their own
toys. At least one half of these groups of aspiring engineers must
be female.

The girls at the event varied greatly in their scientific
interests. Twelve-year-old Mia Barma said she especially enjoyed
the event. “I’m interested in science and math and I
want to be an engineer when I grow up,” she said, adding that
she is specifically interested in electrical engineering. Both her
mother and her teachers have encouraged her to excell in studying
those subjects.

Ride’s first trip on NASA’s Challenger STS 7 rocket
in 1983 marked the beginning of women’s involvement in the
American space program. During her keynote address, Ride shared
with hundreds of young girls her experiences of traveling in
space.

As Ride spoke about her travels through space, the girls were
anxious to ask her questions. From inquiries on what she ate to the
view from space, Ride enthusiastically told them of her
experiences.

Ride’s first flight to space lasted seven days. “We
basically lived off peanut butter sandwiches and dehydrated
food,” she said. It was a week where even the simple task of
taking a shower became impossible.

As Ride spent much of her time fielding questions from the
assembled girls, she stressed that curiosity is a trait that all
young girls have and it should be encouraged. “After all,
that’s what science is — curiosity.”

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