2015 Reasons to Believe Alumni Honor Roll

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Role models who give us Reasons to Believe in the power of education

Sarah Gorelick Ratley

Sarah Gorelick RatleyWyandotte High School, 1951

Other Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools Attended: Mark Twain Elementary.

Sarah Ratley is an aviation pioneer and American heroine. Her courage, determination and intellect helped pave the way for women in space.

In 1961, Ratley was one of 13 women chosen for NASA’s first Woman in Space Program. She was just 26 years old. Titled Mercury 13, the program grew out of two researchers’ interest in women’s capabilities for spaceflight based on their small size and light weight. These women were put through intensive fitness and endurance tests, and all passed. However, one day before the women were to report for their next phase of examinations, the program was scrapped due to the prejudices of the times.

Ratley’s interest in aviation started in high school. She wanted to be in the Pep Club, but in those days, you had to be voted in during your first hour class. When she didn’t make it, she accepted a friend’s invitation to attend a Civil Air Patrol Meeting at the junior college. Soon she was taking flying lessons. By age 17 she had her pilot’s license and was taking her friends for rides.

She grew up in an era where women were expected to be teachers or homemakers. She said she was fortunate because her father believed that girls could do anything that boys could do, and he supported her wholeheartedly. In fact, he was one of her first airplane passengers.

“He told me, ‘Keep your hands on the wheel and watch the sky!’” she recalled.

After high school, Ratley attended the University of Denver majoring in math and minoring in physics and chemistry. She was the only woman in many of her STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classes.

She used an inheritance to buy her first plane, a Cessna 120, which she flew all over the U.S. and in transcontinental air races for women. She has owned a total of five airplanes during her lifetime.

Today, Ratley works as an accountant, but she still holds a pilot’s license and continues to fly.

She is proud that her work through the Mercury 13 program paved the way for other women to become astronauts. She believes in the words of renowned aviator Amelia Earhart, “Women must try to do things as men have tried. When they fail their failure must be but a challenge to others.”