Women who blazed trails in their own professions hailed the space mission of Astronaut Sally K. Ride Saturday as a giant leap for American women.
Cabinet members Elizabeth Dole and Margaret Heckler, New York Opera director Beverly Sills and several other women applauded as Ms. Ride, 32, joined four male colleagues on a six-day mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger.
Even feminist Gloria Steinem and anti-ERA leader Phyllis Schlafly agreed -- a woman's place is in outer space.
'Neil Armstrong took one small step for man back in 1969, but Sally Ride is making a much longer step for both man and woman,' said Mrs. Heckler, recalling the comments of the first man to walk on the moon.
Mrs. Heckler, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said that in 1969 she took her son John to a session the astronauts held. Her 9-year-old asked the astronauts when a woman would go into space.
The astronauts shuffled their feet, acted nervous and had no reply. Mrs. Heckler said the incident impressed her.
'Sally said she didn't come to NASA to make history, but she will,' Mrs. Heckler said. 'A lot of history is made by talented people who do their jobs well and reach for the stars.'
Transportation Department Secretary Elizabeth Dole agreed.
'I am extremely proud of Sally Ride and the role she is playing,' she said.
Mrs. Dole said the space flight by Ms. Ride was part of a 'revolution' involving women, and compared it to her own rise to the highest levels of government.
'My own situation was one of a pioneer,' she said. 'When I completed law school at Harvard I was one of 25 women in a class of 550. Today that same class is 40 percent female.
'Both of us are in careers which have been on the cutting edge of a quiet revolution -- very real changes are taking place in our society.'
Ms. Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine, said it was about time the National Aeronautics and Space Administration realized women were qualified for the space program.
'Finally, 24 years after the first 13 Americans qualified to become astronauts, NASA has allowed a female human being to become what women have always been qualified to be -- a pioneer in space,' she said.
'Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists,' said Ms. Steinem, who was on hand for the launch.
Mrs. Schlafly, 58, who spent the past 10 years fighting against the Equal Rights Amendment, said Ms. Ride deserved a seat on the space flight but Mrs. Schlafly said she did not envy the achievement.
'I think it's fine, and I'm glad to give her my place -- I have no desire to be an astronaut.
'My 18-year-old daughter doesn't want to be an astronaut either,' the mother of six added.
Also at Cape Canaveral for the launch was Jane Hart, 62, one of 13 women chosen by NASA in 1959 to go through the initial Mercury astronaut candidate program. The women were dropped from the program in 1961, and NASA did not open its doors to women again until 1978, when Ms. Ride and seven others entered the program.
'I have no regrets or jealousy. I think it's wonderful,' said Mrs. Hart. 'I felt at the time we should have done it -- about 21 years ago.'
Ms. Sills, who capped an illustrious career as an opera diva by becoming the first woman director of the New York City Opera, agreed the launch of a woman astronaut had been a long time coming.
'It's about time,' she said.
'Who says we can't function in space like we can here?' I hope when I take my space flight some day, Sally Ride will be my conductor.'
Hanna Gray, the first woman president of the University of Chicago, said the occasion was 'a fine thing for scientists and for American women.'
Not everyone welcomed Ms. Ride's accomplishment. U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick and Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner both refused comment.
And Clara James, 53, an employee of the Department of Commerce, protested: 'I don't believe God meant for us to travel between planets.'