Sally Ride, a physicist and former NASA astronaut who made history by becoming both the youngest American astronaut and the first American woman in space – died Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.
“Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless,” according to her company website.
President Obama issued a statement, saying he was “deeply saddened” by the news.
“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model, he said. “She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools.”
Ride was born in Los Angeles on May 26, 1951. She attended Stanford University where she earned degrees in physics and English. Her road into the history books began in 1977 when she – of all things – answered a newspaper ad. She was finishing her Ph.D. in physics when she learned NASA was looking for applicants for the space program. Of the 8,000 people who responded to the ad, only 35 applicants were accepted. Ride was one of the six women chosen, for reasons she didn’t know.
“Why I was selected remains a complete mystery,” she later admitted to John Grossmann in a 1985 interview in Health. “None of us has ever been told.”
Regardless of the reasons, Ride became part of NASA’s 1978 astronaut class and went on to take two trips into space on board the space shuttle Challenger – the first in 1983 and again in 1984. NASA quoted Ride as she fondly recalled her first space journey in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight:
“On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad,” Ride said. “I didn’t really think about it that much at the time . . . but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space.”
In June 1985, she was chosen for a third mission, but it was cancelled after the space shuttle Challenger exploded in flight in January 1986, killing all seven crew members. Ride was part of the presidential commission formed to investigate the accident and was later assigned to NASA’s Washington, DC headquarters to work on long-range and strategic planning, according to a Wikipedia article.
Ride left NASA in 1989 to work for the University of California, San Diego, where she was a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, described on their website as “an innovative science education company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.” She co-wrote seven science books for children and received numerous honors and awards for her contributions.
NASA had this to say regarding her death: “Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.
“The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly,” Bolden said.
Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space died Monday, after a 17-month long battle with pancreatic cancer.
Sally Ride Death: First US Woman in Space
Sally Ride, who blazed trails into orbit as the first American woman in space, died Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.