The first American woman assigned to a space flight stood up yesterday to her first news conference and endured questions ranging from whether she eventually wanted to be a mother to whether she thought women ought to be astronauts.
Her four fellow crew members for the June 18 flight of the space shuttle Challenger shared the stage with astronaut Sally Ride during the one-hour session at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. However, almost all the attention was focused on her.
"We've interviewed lots of Texans this week", a woman television reporter told Ride, "and they don't think women should be astronauts."
"What kinds of Texans did you talk to?" interrupted an irritated Robert Crippen, the flight commander.
"You know," the reporter said. "Those guys with the big hats."
"Well, I'm a native Texan, I wear a big hat and I drive a pickup truck and I think I disagree with those guys in the big hats," Crippen bristled. "I think it's great that there are women astronauts, and I think it's great that Sally Ride is making this flight."
Another reporter asked astronaut Frederick Hauck if he minded the fact that Ride was getting the media attention.
Answered Hauck: "I didn't join this program to get media attention, but now that I'm flying with Sally I'm getting too much. I suppose my picture will be in all the papers tomorrow because I'm sitting up here next to her today." On and on, the questions came, almost all of them directed at Ride.
What will you do when you come back to Earth?
Ride: "I plan to get back in the astronaut office and get in line for another flight.I didn't come into this program to be the first woman in space. I came in to get a chance to fly in space."
What does it feel like to be a role model for all American women?
Ride: "I've come to realize I will be a role model, even though that's not what I intended it to be. What I intend to do is as good a job as I can and I hope that will serve as a role model."
Do you cry when things go wrong during flight simulations? Ride, without rancor: "No, I think I respond the same way the men respond."
Another reporter asked her two questions, the first whether she planned to become a mother after her flight.
After answering the second, Ride said: "You'll notice I didn't answer your first question."
The four male astronauts were asked whether Ride would be an "inconvenience" and whether they'd have to defer to her because she's a woman.
Answered Crippen: "Sally's been anything but an inconvenience." Said Ride: "I haven't felt deferred to in any way. In fact, Crip [Crippen] won't even open doors for me anymore."
Finally, a reporter asked Ride what she would do when she was off duty in such "tight quarters" with four men. She joked: "Are you letting me off duty, Crip?"
In between all this, Crippen described the goals of the flight, the second for Challenger and the seventh of the shuttle program.
It will last six days and end in the first shuttle landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, rather than in the West.
The crew will deploy two communications satellites, one for Canada, the other for Indonesia, and exercise the shuttle's mechanical arm to deploy and retrieve a mock satellite called the Shuttle Pallet Satellite, which weighs 3,300 pounds.