With the crowd cheering "Ride, Sally Ride," a monument to the first American woman to fly into space was unveiled Friday (June 17) outside an air and space museum in Long Island, New York.
The Cradle of Aviation Museum revealed the statue of the late NASA astronaut (opens in new tab) during a ceremony attended by local officials and area school children.
"Tomorrow marks the 39th anniversary of Sally Ride's first flight, so it is very fitting that we are here to unveil this wonderful statue today," said Andy Parton, president of the museum.
The 7-foot-tall (2 meters) bronze and gold sculpture depicts Ride in the same inflight coveralls that she wore on the space shuttle Challenger to become America's first female astronaut (opens in new tab) and only the third woman in the world to launch into space on June 18, 1983. The statue captures Ride stepping forward while she holds up a model of her winged spacecraft toward the sky.
"The First American Woman in Space" monument was a gift to the museum, underwritten by the Matson Family Foundation, entrepreneur Peter Diamandis on behalf of the X PRIZE Foundation and the former First Lady of California, Maria Shriver.
"Being the first in anything comes with its own set of expectations. Not far from where we are, Charles Lindbergh became the first to fly the Atlantic back in 1927. Twenty years later, in 1947, Jackie Robinson became the first African American to break the color barrier in baseball just west of us in Brooklyn. And in 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon on a lunar module that was built right here on Long Island," said Parton.
The same company that built the moon lander, Grumman Aerospace (today, Northrop Grumman), later supplied the wings and flight control surfaces for the shuttle orbiters that flew Ride into space twice. After leaving NASA, Ride briefly worked in New York City as president of Space.com and, with her life partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, co-founded Sally Ride Science, a non-profit to promote science education. She died in 2012, succumbing to pancreatic cancer (opens in new tab) at the age of 61.
"We're pretty confident that young girls and boys who see this statue as they visit the museum will start to be inspired, and who knows? One of them could be the first to set foot on the Red Planet," said Parton. "I believe this statue will show that Sally Ride's influence and inspiration is now coast to coast, from Sally Ride Science in California to the Cradle of Aviation Museum here on Long Island."
The statue was created by Colorado-based sculptors and brothers George and Mark Lundeen, working with fellow artist Joey Bainer.
"These are not just the greatest sculptors in America, these are the greatest sculptors in the world," said Steven Barber, a a documentary filmmaker whose idea it was to erect the statue to Sally Ride and who organized its creation and placement.
The Ride statue is the fourth tribute to astronauts sculpted by the Lundeen brothers and the third made with Barber. Previously they created the statue of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert for the National Statuary Hall in the United States Capitol; a monument to Apollo 11 astronauts (opens in new tab) Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins that stands at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida; and statues of the Apollo 13 crew (opens in new tab), James Lovell, Fred Haise and Swigert, for Space Center Houston in Texas.
Duplicates of the Swigert and Apollo 11 statues stand at Denver International Airport in Colorado and Appleton International Airport in Wisconsin, respectively.
"The First American Woman in Space (opens in new tab)" stands apart, though, as the first and only monument of its type, said Barber.
"It occurred to me there were zero monuments to any of the women from NASA. Sixty-five women had flown in space, thousands and thousands of women have worked at NASA and there isn't one monument to any of them," he said. "What better way to start than with the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. That's why we're all here today, to celebrate this incredible pioneer, not only as a woman, but as a brilliant physicist and an inspiration for the last 39 years."
The Cradle of Aviation Museum is accepting orders for engraved bricks (opens in new tab) to line its new "Sally Ride Circle," surrounding the statue. The bricks, which can be inscribed with the name of a family, loved one, business or organization, can be reserved for a donation of $125 or more. The funds raised from the program will help support the museum's preservation efforts and educational activities.