Pioneering American astronaut Sally Ride died today after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. In 1983, she became the first American woman to travel to space. But that's not all. At 32 she was the youngest American to have travelled to space at all at that time. What an incredible life. Our condolences go out to her friends and family.
Sally Kristen Ride was born in Encino, Los Angeles, California in 1951. She attended the prestigious Harvard-Westlake school on a scholarship, and graduated from Stanford University with degrees in English and Physics. As she was finishing her Ph.D in physics she saw an advertisement that said NASA was seeking astronauts. Ride applied for the job, and was amongst 35 new astronauts hired by NASA in 1978—six of them were women.
After serving on the ground-based crew for several missions, Ride was tapped to go up into space herself. Until that point most astronauts were usually military pilots that were used to extremely dangerous situations. Ride underwent extensive training and evaluation for her flight into space, including parachuting, water survival, weightlessness training, navigation, and radio communications.
On June 18th, 1983, Ride made history by going into space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. She went up again in Challenger 1984, and was scheduled to go up again, but her flight was suspended when the shuttle exploded in 1986. In total she spent 14 days, seven hours, and 46 minutes in space. Remarkable.
Ride is an inspiration for a generation of women in the sciences for a very good reason. The sciences and scientific organizations like NASA are notoriously dominated by men. Twenty-nine years ago it was even worse, and yet Ride prevailed and went to space anyway.
After Ride retired from NASA in 1987, she served as a professor at Stanford, and the University of California, San Diego. She also devoted much of her time and efforts to science education. Ride served as an important public advocate for the sciences, and in 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, which produces science education programs for kids and focuses on inspiring a wider interest in science, especially amongst girls.
Ride was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 17 months ago. She's survived by several family members. What a tremendous loss for the science and space community. She'll be missed. [Sally Ride Science]