The sky is no limit in the space program
By Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reproduced from the 13 October 1996 Annapolis Capital
When I was 14, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut. Inspired by Alan Shephard's
pioneering 15-minute trip into space, I wrote NASA to find out what I needed to
do to see the stars up close. The space agency thanked me for my interest
but said that women were not being considered for the job.
I doubt that I was the only girl to receive a disappointing letter from NASA.
And I know that this past spring and summer, I wasn't the only woman who found
her old dreams of space travel orbit Earth with Shannon Lucid in a 136-ton space
For six months, I was among millions of men and women who cheered each time
we heard that Ms. Lucid had broken another space record or when we read reports
of her good humor, stamina, and quiet strength during her stay on the Russian
space station Mir.
We chuckled as she described how she and her two
Russian colleagues looked forward to Jell-O for dessert on Sundays. Our
admiration grew as she gamely took the news that her return to Earth would be
delayed by six weeks. And it was refreshing for all of us to see an American
display so much grace and civility in the close quarters of a space station when
those attributes sometimes seem to be in short supply on Earth.
I wish I could have been at Kennedy Space Center September 26 to see
Ms. Lucid as she defied expectations and walked off the space shuttle
Atlantis on her own two feet. (Scientists had thought that after 188
days of weightlessness, she would have been too weak to stand, much less
walk.) I wish I could have seen her face when she opened the large box of
M & Ms that the president had sent her as a welcome-home present. And I
wish I could have been with Bill the next day in Houston when he paid tribute to
Ms. Lucid for setting the record for the longest flight by any American -- and
any woman -- in space.
Like many Americans of my generation, the space program captured my
imagination when I was still very young. After the Soviet Union launched
Sputnik and became the first country to travel into space, I remember
President Eisenhower urging all of us school children to study more math and
science. A successful space program, he said, would require many talented and
visionary scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. I took his and later
President Kennedy's words to heart, feeling that I could play a part in the
preparing our country for the future.
My brother and I followed the space program closely. We were glued to our
black-and-white television set and pored over the morning papers each time the
Mercury astronauts blasted into space. And like many Americans, I
remember where I was when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.
(I was washing dishes at a National Park hotel in Alaska.)
As an adult, I continued to share in every triumph, disappointment, and
milestone in our space program -- from Sally Ride's historic shuttle ride to the
Challenger explosion, which reminded all of us of the great risk our
astronauts take each time they travel into space, to this summer's announcement
that there may have been life on Mars.
Perhaps no recent achievement resonates more with American women and girls
than Ms. Lucid's. Here's a woman who refused to let prevailing stereotypes
limit her interests and ambitions. When she was 13, she wrote an essay about
her dream of becoming a rocket scientist. Her teacher laughed at the idea,
saying that if there were such a profession, women would never be a part of it.
But Ms. Lucid didn't abandon her interest in science -- or space. She
learned to pilot an airplane. While raising a family, she got a doctorate in
And, when NASA decided to end its single-sex policy, Ms. Lucid was ready --
and qualified. She joined Sally Ride in the first group of American women
astronauts. Today, Ms. Lucid is a veteran of five shuttle missions and one of
America's most experienced astronauts.
While there are still many more frontiers of work and space to explore and
conquer, Ms. Lucid is living proof to all of us -- and especially our daughters
-- that the sky need not be the limit of our dreams and ambitions.