Sally Ride, renowned physicist and the first American woman (and youngest American) to enter space died Monday at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer.
Ride was not kidding around with what she wanted to do with life, earning a BA in English AND a BS, MS, and Ph.D. in Physics while doing research in astrophysics and free electron laser physics at Stanford University.
One of 8,000 to answer a newspaper ad from NASA looking for applicants to the space program, Ride joined NASA in 1978. Before her historic ride in 1983 as the first woman in space on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride found herself fielding curiously sexist questions from the press like “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” and once again boarded the Challenger the following year for a second trip across the universe.
In her career, Ride logged in over 343 hours in space.
Ride is not only the first American woman in space, she also served as the ground-based Capsule Communicator (or CapCom) for her second and third shuttle flights. Along with helping develop the Space Shuttle’s robot arm, Ride was the FIRST woman to use the robot arm in space and the FIRST to use the arm to retrieve a satellite.
Ride had just completed training to embark on her third trip when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and was appointed to the presidential commission to investigate the accident, then headed the operations subcommittee soon after.
After her career at NASA, Ride never slowed. In 1987, she worked at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control, became a physics professor at University of California, San Diego and Director of the California Space Institute in 1989.
In 2003, Ride was once again asked to serve on an investigation board; this time for the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion and is the only person ever to serve on two boards. Never one to shy away from the truth, Ride publicly supported Challenger engineer Roger Boisjoly’s early warnings of technical problems before the explosion (after the entire company turned their back on him) with the simplest and strongest of gestures: a hug.
In her lifetime, Ride won numerous awards including the National Space Society’s von Braun, the Lindbergh Eagle, NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt award, awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal (TWICE) AND was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, Astronaut Hall of Fame and the California Hall of Fame (California Museum for History, Women and the Arts).
Her undying love of science inspired her write a book of her own and co-author 4 different books with Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy (Ride’s longtime companion and professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University) on the subject of space as well as founding Sally Ride Science; a program focused on creating science programs and publications hoping to spark that same love of science in children around the world, especially girls.
Ride always took the time to appear on numerous children’s programs (like Sesame Street) to show young boys and girls everywhere that ANYthing is possible if you work hard and that science can indeed be fun and take you to places you’ve only dreamed of.
Ride was an AMAZING woman and an inspiration to space and science geeks everywhere as well as the gay and lesbian community; she and partner Dr. Tam O’Shaughnessy spent 27 wonderful years together, separated only by Ride’s passing.
Thank you for all you’ve done and for blowing the door wide open for other girls to join what was originally known as a “boy’s club.”
Rest assured, Miss Ride; there’s a LOT of ladies (and guys) out there doing what you do now and boys and girls WANTING to do what you did that would name YOU as their inspiration and hero.
As a child, I never really understood science but I did understand ONE thing: there was a girl astronaut. I was 12 when you took that first trip and I knew right then and there that when I grew up, I was gonna be whatever I wanted because you grew up to be who YOU wanted to be.
Be sure to look in on our Big Blue Marble from time to time and see where we go next.
Farewell, First Lady of Space Travel.
Ride, Sally, ride.
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