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Sally's Ride: Fly Me to the Moon

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Fly me to the Moon.

My family was a space family. My father started working at NASA from its inception in 1958 until his retirement some 32 years later.

When I was barely knee-high looking up at the moon and stars in the evening sky with my dad in our front yard in Parma, Ohio as he pointed out the Big Dipper and other constellations, I didn't dare dream of becoming an astronaut although my four younger brothers would. It was a guy thing. Girls need not apply.

It was my godfather U.S. Army Colonel William Gojsza's 60th birthday on June 18, 1983 when astronaut Sally Ride, just a few years older than me, became the first woman to go where no American woman had gone before. My godfather and his wife Sonia's daughter, Eugenia ,co-oped with NASA as an engineering student at the University of Alabama in the late '70s around the time Sally Ride and other women were answering a NASA newspaper ad to become astronauts.

Eugenia Gojsza made a big splash in the local press at that time when as a female, she supervised the pouring of cement for a pad in connection with Enterprise, the first space shuttle orbiter at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. Originally to be named Constitution in honor of our nation's Bicentennial in 1976, Star Trek television viewers launched a successful write-in campaign to the White House to have it named Enterprise instead.

Ride's historic flight gave us chills. I remember the signs and T-shirts. "Ride, Sally Ride", they read. From the song, Mustang Sally . As she flew on the space shuttle Challenger, Dr. Ride became not only the nation's first woman in space but also the youngest at age thirty-two. Today, a Nashville girl band is called "Mustang Sally."

Sadly, Challenger which Dr. Ride rode on her barrier breaking space mission, crashed and burned killing everyone inside three years later on Jan. 28, 1986 -- my grandfather Bismarck Otto Newman's birthday on my mother's side of the family.

Astronaut Ride is the only person to sit on the accident investigation boards for both the Challenger (1986) and Columbia (2003) spacecraft tragedies.

Dr. Ride's death from pancreatic cancer was on the front page of our morning papers on July 24, the 115th birthday of another pioneering woman who took flight, Amelia Earhart. As the first woman pilot to cross the Atlantic Ocean, Earhart was remembered with a Google home page plane doodle this week. You'll recall she disappeared over the Pacific Ocean with her navigator in 1937. A new search is underway for her remains and the aircraft wreckage.

The day July 24 is not only a significant day for Earhart and Ride but for my family, too. We buried my NASA father, John Glenn "Stirling Jack" Slaby on that day in 1992. On the 20th anniversary of his passing this year, we came back to Cleveland where he lived and is buried to honor him. The space agency's symbol of a planet and the stars, is etched on our parents' grave marker. The NASA John Glenn Research Center in Cleveland where he worked, named after Ohio's U.S. Senator and astronaut, was so much a part of our lives.

I guess my father was destined to work in the space industry. How could he not when his name was so similar to the famous astronaut John Glenn's? Of course, when dad started at NASA, astronaut Glenn, four years older than my dad, had not yet become the first American to orbit the earth.

My father was instrumental in the development of the stirling engine at NASA; hence his nickname, "Stirling Jack."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Sally Ride "changed the face of America's space program." Literally. She was in the first class of women astronauts in the late 1970s, receiving her Ph.D. in astrophysics from Stanford University where she also studied Shakespeare, truly a Renaissance woman.

In her later years, Sally Ride Science was established in San Diego to promote math, science and technology for both girls and boys.

I pray my twelve-year-old nephew Joel who, among his four siblings, is known as "the science guy," will be inspired by Sally Ride's life and example. She's a role model for boys, too. Joel who entertains family with his magic shows -- what is science if not magic -- was born in Moon Township near Pittsburgh.

What I wish for Joel as he grows older and finds himself sitting outdoors with his sweetheart gazing up at the stars, is that he listens to Frank Sinatra's Fly Me to the Moon.

It's as if Frank might have had an inkling in 1964 when he recorded his hit on June 9 -- my mother Lillian Newman Slaby's 33rd birthday -- that somehow someday there would be a Sally riding through the galaxy showing the way. Showing that girls, can be science guys, too.