The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 24, 2012

Astronaut from area remembers Ride as ‘pioneer’

Astronaut Sally Ride was remembered Tuesday by one who came after her, Janet Kavandi, an astronaut with ties to Southwest Missouri.

Kavandi described Ride as “another one of the many pioneers whom we have had in American history.”

Ride, the first American woman in orbit, died Monday at her home in La Jolla, Calif., at age 61 of pancreatic cancer. Ride flew into space on the shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, when she was 32. Since then, Kavandi and 41 other American women have followed Ride into space.

Kavandi said Tuesday that she and Ride never worked for NASA at the same time.

In 1978, NASA included women in the astronaut corps for the first time, selecting Ride and five other women to join the program, which had been dominated by male military test pilots since the days of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions.

Kavandi, who is 53 and lives in Houston, Texas, was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1994 and flew on three shuttle missions between 1998 and 2001. Her flights included trips to the Mir Space Station and the International Space Station.

Kavandi, who graduated from Missouri Southern State University in 1980 and from the University of Missouri in 1982 with a master’s degree, was working for EaglePicher Industries as an engineer in new battery development at the time of Ride’s historic flight.

She said she understands that for some Americans, Ride’s mission in space was an eye-opening revelation, but Kavandi said she remembers thinking: “Of course a woman did that.”

Kavandi also credited her father with teaching her that no job should be off limits to anyone because of gender.

Kavandi later graduated from the University of Washington with a doctorate in analytical chemistry. She went to work for Boeing Aerospace Co. as an engineer, preparing herself for what she called a “very, very competitive position” with NASA.

Today, Kavandi serves as director of the Flight Crew Operations Directorate for NASA and is responsible for day-to-day activities of the astronaut corps. A dozen of the 53 active astronauts are women, she said, which reflects the percentage of women who are applying to the program.

Because of Ride, Kavandi said, “We didn’t have to struggle as much. Usually the pioneers in any field have the hardest job. She did that for female astronauts around the world.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

Early accomplishment

JANET KAVANDI was born in Springfield and graduated from Carthage High School in 1977. She was the class valedictorian.

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