July 25, 2012 Novelist Margaret Lazarus Dean may teach in a college English department—she’s an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville—but her passion is as much for outer space as for literature. In fact, her debut novel The Time It Takes To Fall, centers largely on the NASA space-shuttle program. A lifelong enthusiast of space travel, Dean now writes a column for The Huffington Post about the intersection of space and creativity. A recent tribute to her father reflects on the man responsible for her love of space.
The recent death of astronaut Sally Ride was the inspiration for another Huffington Post tribute. It is clear that Dean has looked up to Sally Ride for much of her life. In describing her childhood introduction to the first women astronauts, she writes, “My nose practically touched the screen as I took them in—their feathered hair, their bright makeup, their intelligent eyes. Anna Fisher, Shannon Lucid, Judith Resnik, Sally Ride, Rhea Seddon and Kathryn Sullivan. Here was a new way to be a woman in the world.” Dean applauds the way Ride and her co-astronauts set a new precedent for women in a workforce dominated by men. She also notes with great admiration the graceful example that Ride and her colleagues set for the women that followed in her path:
There’s always a special pressure on female “firsts,” a level of scrutiny that can seem benign to the observer but does not always feel that way to the observed. Sally Ride said in interviews that she didn’t want to be a trailblazer, didn’t want to be a “first,” she just wanted to go to space. This kind of comment is often dismissed as false modesty, but I believe her. After all, being a first means that no matter what she accomplishes, she will always remembered simply for having being female.
Read the rest of Margaret Lazarus Dean’s essay for Huffington Post here.