Sally Ride Was the First U.S. Woman to Go to Space. Now, She Is the First Female Astronaut to Be Honored With a Public Monument
She has also recently appeared on a special edition of the U.S. quarter.
A bronze statue of Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, was dedicated at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City on Long Island on Friday—the nation’s first monument to a woman astronaut.
At the time of her first mission in 1983, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride was also the youngest American ever to make the journey into space, at just 32 years of age. She died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, when she was 61.
Then President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Ride the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. He presented it to Ride’s partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, allowing the late astronaut to finally come out as a member of the LGBTQ community—the first in NASA history to do so.
The memorial to Ride’s groundbreaking achievements is the brainchild of documentary filmmaker Steven C. Barber, and is actually the third NASA monument he has spearheaded.
His initial inspiration was a sculpture of Apollo 13 astronaut Jack Swigert at the Capitol building’s National Statuary Hall in Washington D.C., by George and Mark Lundeen of Lundeen Sculpture in Loveland, Colorado.
Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing in 2019, Barber helped raise $750,000 from Rocket Mortgage to install seven-foot-tall bronze statues of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins at the Kennedy Space Center’s Moon Tree Garden in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Six months ago, Barber unveiled an Apollo 13 monument of Swigert, James Lovell, and Fred Haise at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, completed thanks to $750,000 from Grainger Industrial Supply.
“As I went through my journey of building the Apollo 11 monument and the Apollo 13 monument, it occurred to me very early on that there were no monuments commemorating any of the 65 women who have flown in space and the over 12,000 women that had worked at NASA,” Barber told Artnet News in an email.
All three monuments are the work of Lundeen Sculptors, designed by the Lundeen brothers and Joey Bainer.
“When I take a vision to the Lundeen Sculptors, they inevitably make it better,” Barber said. “They decided to put the Space Shuttle in Sally’s right arm, pointing to the stars, which I thought was absolutely genius.”
A less complex composition than the two Apollo monuments because it features only one figure, the Ride memorial cost just $300,000 to create and install. But much like a NASA mission, the project was not without its complications.
“I spent several months calling hundreds and hundreds of executives at Fortune 500 companies getting unbelievable, gut-wrenching, demoralizing rejections,” Barber said.
In the end, he secured funding from the Matson Family Foundation, Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation, Cinemark Theatres, and Maria Shriver.
And then there was the artwork itself.
“The sculpture was originally done in clay on a steel armature, but the night it was finished, it was consumed in fire that destroyed our studios,” George Lundeen told Artnet News in an email. “Although [it was] a great setback, we were able to reconstruct Sally Ride from the ashes.”
The company cast the work in bronze at a foundry using the lost wax process and finishing it with a multicolored patina.
The monument’s upcoming unveiling follows on the heels of the March release of the Sally Ride quarter from the U.S. Mint, part of the American Women Quarters Program, which will release 20 coins honoring historic women over the next four years.
The artist behind the coin’s design is Elana Hagler, part of the mint’s Artistic Infusion Program, and the sculptor who executed the artwork is Phebe Hemphill, who has worked at the mint since 1987.
The coin shows Ride at the window of the Space Shuttle, an image that was inspired by a statement she once made: “When I wasn’t working, I was usually at a window looking down at Earth.”
“I think the design reflects Sally’s dreamy view of the future and fierce determination,” O’Shaughnessy told Nerdist.
The first American Women Quarter was released in January, featuring writer and activist Maya Angelou. Chinese American film star Anna May Wong, American Cherokee activist Wilma Mankiller, and suffragist Nina Otero-Warren are also being honored this year.
The Lundeens and Barber plan to continue building statues recognizing the achievements of women in NASA history, such as the African American mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were depicted in the film Hidden Figures, and Mae C. Jemison, the first African American woman to go to space.
Barber is also shooting a documentary about Ride, which he hopes to release on a major streaming platform in 2023.
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