She met Amelia Earhart in 1937, and although Helen J. Sioussat found the pioneer aviator to be "a charming, lovely, relaxed, person, and very beautiful," she admires Sally K. Ride more. So last night she went down to the Mall just to shake the hand of the space-age hero.

"Like Earhart, she is very modest," said Sioussat, 81, who worked for CBS in TV's early days. "Let's just say she's not flaunting it by any means. It's a trait with a person who has succeeded--when you are somebody. You don't have to blow your own horn. You know you're there."

Sally Ride is certainly there, and the party at the National Air and Space Museum was to celebrate her arrival. The evening was really a tribute to all five of the astronauts who flew the Challenger, but Ride, as usual, received most of the attention.

The Wonder Woman Foundation and the cochairs of the Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues joined NASA and the museum in organizing the event. The nonprofit foundation is largely funded by Warner Communications, which owns the DC Comics feature "Wonder Woman." The superhuman character, like Sally Ride, was seldom far from the speakers' lips, with caucus cochair Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) describing real-life wonder women as those who "show that the things we've never allocated to women--like independence, forebearing and courage--aren't things men have a lock on."

Rep. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), the other caucus cochair, congratulated NASA for finally admitting women astronauts. "I'm sure glad NASA didn't wait as long as the American people did to elect a woman to Congress," she said. "By my mathematical calculations, the astronaut corps will be half female in 2079, while the majority of the Congress will be women in 3080."

Earlier, Schroeder and Wonder Woman Foundation President Jenette Kahn agreed they couldn't remember who first thought of organizing the salute to the astronauts. "Wonder women think alike," Schroeder said. "Just don't try to fit us into the uniform."

On behalf of the crew, Ride presented the Smithsonian with "something that was very close to me during the flight: my flight suit," and jokingly warned Air and Space director Walter Boyne that NASA's tight budget might force her to reclaim the suit for her next trip into space.

Then Ride introduced what she called "our home movies," saying, "This will show you how we spent our summer vacation."

The astronauts tried their hardest to make Challenger's complex experiments understandable to the audience of more than 500, but even without technical knowledge, everyone could laugh as a can of weightless butterscotch pudding floated across the screen or when astronaut Norman E. Thagard commented that his "apparent baldness on screen is just a zero-g effect."

After the movie, grinning fans assaulted the astronauts with requests for autographs. Astronaut Steve Hawley, who is scheduled to fly on the maiden flight of the shuttle Discovery in March, stood to Ride's side, responding politely to gushing cries of "You're Sally's husband!"

Cmdr. Robert L. Crippen, leaning on a banister, smiled broadly at the woman who asked for his autograph to take back to "my boys and girls in Tuskegee to keep them trucking away at science." In between sips of beer, he acknowledged a compliment on his camera work in space: "When you get subjects like that," he said, "how can you fail?"

And Schroeder said that while in college she dreamed of being an astronaut. "I wrote a letter and they told me, 'Terribly sorry. Go find something else.' So I went to law school. But women in this generation," Schroeder said, looking over at her 13-year-old daughter Jamie, "I don't think there's anything they can't do."