As a girl, I wanted to grow up and become an astronaut. So, among my heroes back when I was young was Sally Ride. She was the first American woman, and the first lesbian, in space. Her first mission into space was on the Challenger in 1983 when she was 32. She passed away today at the age of 61 from complications related to pancreatic cancer. She had kept the details of her illness private.
President Barack Obama stated “Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars.” While she was the first to go into space, forty-two other American women have since touched the stars.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, stated that Ride “broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program. The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Ride was not only a physicist, but also a writer and president of her own company. She also spent time as a professor of physics at the University of California San Diego. She was chosen to become an astronaut in 1978. That was the same year she got her doctorate from Stanford University. Ride’s first flight came two decades after Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkov, a Soviet cosmonaut, flew into space.
She recalled in 2008 that “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. 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.”
Ride would fly into space twice and log 343 hours in space. Ride’s third trip into space was cancelled when the Shuttle Challenger exploded on takeoff killing all aboard. Ride would sit on the commission investigating the accident. Nineteen years later, on the anniversary of her first trip into space, Ride would spend time investigating another accident which killed seven astronauts. She sat on the commission investigating the breakup of the Columbia in 2003. She stated that it was depressing work, “But in another sense, it’s rewarding because it’s an opportunity to be part of the solution and part of the changes that will occur and will make the program better.”
Ride is survived by her partner of twenty-seven years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. The two wrote several books together. O’Shaughnessy is a a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University, is also chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride’s foundation. Ride is also survived by her mother, sister, niece and nephew.