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First woman astronaut speaks about shuttle


Astronaut Sally K. Ride, the first American woman in space, presented a "home movie" of her 1984 shuttle flight last Thursday. Her lecture was sponsored by the Lecture Series Committee (LSC).

Ride narrated a 20-minute film made of shots taken during her second flight. "It turns out astronauts are really a lot like tourists. We get up into the space shuttle and all we want to do is take pictures," she said.

Ride first entered orbit on the flight of Challenger 2, the seventh shuttle mission, in June 1983. But "I've had to talk so much about that" first flight, Ride said, "that I'm tired of it and that's all you're going to hear about my first flight."

Ride's second mission on Oct. 5, 1984, was dedicated to geological science, and included an oceanographer and a Canadian astronomer in addition to the five career-astronaut crew. It was the first shuttle mission to carry a Canadian astronaut and the first to carry two female astronauts. The flight was the second to land at Kennedy Space Center in Florida instead of Edward's Air Force base in California.

Ride's film chronicled the mission from the breakfast before the launch through touchdown. It featured shots from most aspects of the mission, including a satellite launch, a space walk by two crew members and many pictures of the earth. Ride spoke about the mission:

O+ The moat around the landing strip at Kennedy Space Center is a wilderness reservation and is filled with alligators. She said this provided added incentive for the pilot to make a good landing on the runway;

O+ The way astronauts orient themselves in the cabin "evolves" during the course of the mission due to weightlessness. Most crew members kept themselves perpendicular to the Earth at the beginning of the mission. But after several days in zero gravity, "people are every which way and there's no concern with up and down;"

O+ The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) uses 25 T38 jet airplanes to maintain the astronaut-pilots' flying proficiency. Shuttle crew members are informally taught how to fly the airplanes as they gain proficiency in navigation and communication. Also, all astronauts are allowed to use the planes for travel as well as training.

Ride became an astronaut in l978. She was chosen from an applicant pool NASA developed to meet the personnel needs of the then-new space shuttle program.

She became a member of the first group of astronauts selected since the mid-1960s. The first six women in the astronaut program were among the 15 astronaut-pilots and 20 astronaut-scientists accepted in Ride's class.

The current NASA astronaut selection criteria, according to Ride, requires the applicant to be healthy, have eyesight correctable to 20/20, be between 5@# and 6@# 5" and have a bachelor's degree in math, engineering or science. Neither superior fitness nor graduate or post-graduate education is required, she said, but a graduate degree is helpful.

Ride has a PhD in physics from Stanford University, with concentrations in astrophysics and free electron laser research. NASA provides scientist-astronauts with the option of continuing research in their fields, Ride said. But since joining the space shuttle program, she no longer actively works solely in these fields.

A representative of LSC reported that 437 people attended Ride's lecture.