A statue of the first American woman to fly into space will soon stand near where the first lunar landing spacecraft were built, just as NASA works toward landing the first woman on the moon.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York will host the monument to Sally Ride, who as a NASA astronaut made history flying on the space shuttle in 1983. The statue of the late astronaut will be unveiled during a public ceremony on June 17, just one day shy of the 39th anniversary of Ride's first launch.
"We are honored to have this sculpture — depicting the first American woman in space — in the museum's permanent collection," Andy Parton, Cradle of Aviation president, said in a statement.
The gold and bronze statue, which will be erected in the new "Sally Ride Circle" outside the entrance to the museum, will welcome visitors as they come to learn more about the aeronautical and astronautical history of the Long Island area. In addition to displaying more than 70 aircraft, the Cradle of Aviation also exhibits LM-13, an unused Apollo lunar module, which was built at the nearby Grumman Aircraft Engineering facility in Bethpage, New York.
Titled "The First American Woman in Space," the monument depicts Ride in her space shuttle one-piece flight suit and flight jacket. Shown stepping forward, Ride's right arm is extended outward as she holds up a model of the space shuttle orbiter to the sky.
The shuttle fleet's wings and vertical stabilizers (tail) were also built by Grumman in Bethpage.
A native of Los Angeles, Ride was a nationally ranked youth tennis player and physicist before joining NASA's astronaut corps in 1978. One of the first six U.S. women to train for a spaceflight, Ride helped to deploy two satellites on STS-7, the first of her two missions.
She later launched on STS-41G to conduct Earth observations and demonstrate potential satellite refueling techniques. It was the first mission to fly two women.
After leaving NASA, Ride served as a physics professor and, with her life partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, co-founded Sally Ride Science to motivate young women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Ride's closest connection, at least geographically, to the Cradle of Aviation was her one year as the founding president of Space.com, leading the New York City-based company and its efforts to develop educational programming for students.
Ride died of pancreatic cancer at age 61 in 2012.
"It is my great hope that once Sally Ride is unveiled, it will open the floodgates to other monuments for high-achieving American women in STEM," said Steven Barber, a documentary filmmaker whose idea it was to erect the statue and who organized its creation and placement.
The statue is a gift to the Cradle of Aviation from the Matson Family Foundation, Peter Diamandis, on behalf of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Maria Shriver. It was created by Colorado-based sculptors and brothers George and Mark Lundeen, working with fellow artist Joey Bainer.
The Ride statue is the fourth astronaut tribute created by the Lundeen brothers and third made with Barber. Previously they sculpted the statue of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert for the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol, a monument to Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins that stands at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and statues of the Apollo 13 crew James Lovell, Fred Haise and Swigert for Space Center Houston.
Duplicates of the Swigert and Apollo 11 statues stand at Denver International Airport in Colorado and Appleton International Airport in Wisconsin, respectively.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum is holding an essay contest for middle and high school students centered on Ride's life and achievements, as well as her contributions to space exploration. The winner will unveil the monument during the June 17 ceremony.
The museum is also now accepting orders for engraved bricks to line the new Sally Ride Circle, surrounding the statue. The bricks, which are available for a donation of $125 or more, can be inscribed with the name of a family or loved one, or feature a business or organization. The funds raised from the bricks will help support the Cradle of Aviation's preservation efforts and educational programs.
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Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.