Malibu man set to unveil lasting tribute to astronaut Sally Ride

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Malibu filmmaker Steven C. Barber poses next to the Sally Ride statue he comissioned. The statue will debut July 4 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley. Photo courtesy Steven C. Barber

Unveiling scheduled at popular Fourth of July celebration at the Reagan Library 

A Malibu filmmaker is about to unveil his latest project: not a movie, but a statue of the first American woman in space, Sally Ride. The larger-than-life monument will debut July 4 during a huge celebration at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley.

Steven C. Barber, a Malibu resident for 22 years, is a successful documentarian focusing on World War II. “My moniker is ‘noble filmmaker’, travelling the world telling great American stories,” Barber stated. He “fell into the monument world” five years ago when a space documentary fell through. With some spare time to think on a bike ride he said he had an epiphany about building monuments. “Nobody had ever done it and the timing was good,” the 62-year-old explained. 

It was 2018 when he took his idea to NASA to build a monument honoring the crew of Apollo 11 in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the trailblazing moon landing. Barber conceived and commissioned a 1,400-lb., 12-foot gold and bronze monument to Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin, a friend of Barber. It was Barber who raised $750,000 for its construction. The magnificent sculpture sits at the Kennedy Space Center where it’s viewed by 20,000 people daily. 

Barber raised money again to have a monument built commemorating the crew of Apollo 13. That spectacular artwork features the three brave astronauts who faced a near-fatal power loss that threatened their safe return. Barber called it a tribute to “fearlessness and a quest for adventure. Apollo 13, known as a successful failure brought the entire world together in prayer directed at the spacecraft to bring these three legendary astronauts home. The world has never gotten together like that before or since.” That monument sits at the Houston Space Center.

When Barber realized there were no monuments celebrating the more than 70 female astronauts he said, “Sally Ride made the most sense because she was the first American woman in space.” 

The late Ride, a physicist, made her groundbreaking flight on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. She spent a total of more than 343 hours in space. She died in 2012. 

Barber recounted his wife had told him, “Sometimes success sneaks through the backdoor disguised as failure.” He said the day his documentary fell through turned out to be “the best day of my life.” He was surprised these monuments hadn’t been built for these heroes before and was proudly happy to make it happen. 

Barber uses his filmmaking skills to produce monuments he’s passionate about. 

“There’s a million guys who are producers, but there’s only one guy making monuments to our greatest explorers and scientists and that’s me,” he said. “And the nice thing about a monument is, right now, there are thousands of people looking at them — at the Houston and Kennedy Space Centers and at the Cradle of Aviation Museum. They’re taking pictures and selfies.

“Four-and-a-half million people a year see my monuments. There’s something about a monument that’s more enriching. I love all my movies, but once the movie is made, people forget about it. A monument is seen 365 days a year. These things will be here a thousand years from now.”

Barber said the monuments are crafted by “incredible sculptors,” Lundeen Sculpture in Colorado.

This will be the second Sally Ride piece Barber has commissioned. The first stands at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in New York. The latest Sally Ride monument is in California to celebrate the 40th anniversary of her first mission. Since Ronald Reagan was president during Ride’s pioneering missions that landed at nearby Edwards Air Force Base and the first person to speak with Ride and the crew upon their return, Barber asked officals at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library if they were interested in showcasing the monument. Library officials enthusiastically responded. 

“She was this all-encompassing powerhouse and Reagan liked her,” Barber commented.

The Sally Ride monument will be unveiled at noon outside of the Reagan Library in Simi Valley on July 4 during the library’s popular Independence Day celebration. You may want to arrive early because the patriotic celebration is typically crowded with thousands of visitors for music, presidential look-a-likes, and more. All activities outside the library are free. Regular admission rates apply to tour inside. Ride’s mother and other family members are expected to attend. “It’s going to be exciting,” Barber said. 

Barber’s upcoming works celebrate diversity in space with monuments planned for Dr. Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, and Guy Bluford, the first African American in space. Plus, he’s shooting a documentary about Ride.