Sally Ride—First American Woman In Space—Dies in La Jolla

Ride, who founded Sally Ride Science, was 61.

Sally Ride, who nurtured her interest in science by playing with a chemistry set and telescope as a child and went on to become the first American woman in space, died Monday in La Jolla at the age of 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Ride, who earned a tennis scholarship to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles, soared into history on June 18, 1983, when she blasted off as a member of the crew aboard the space shuttle Challenger. She also headed San Diego-based Sally Ride Science, a science-education company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.

Sally Ride Science co-founder Dr. Karen Flammer and research physicist at UC San Diego said Ride, a longtime La Jolla resident really had a passion to inspire students to pursue math and sciences.

“She had such a huge impact across the country and locally,” said Flammer. “She was a role model.”

Ride, who died at her home, had not made many public appearances in the past year. She asked for a life celebration for family, friends and NASA colleagues to be held after her death. Sally Ride Science will plan this celebration in the “near future.”

Flammer fondly remembered “all nighters” with Ride planning educational programs and working with UCSD students.

“Her passion was infectious. It really changed my career,” said Flammer.

UC San Diego Chancellor Marye Anne Fox released the following statement on Monday afternoon, “She was the epitome of bravery and courage. She dedicated her life and career to advancing science and technology, and encouraging young students to reach for the stars."

Ride joined UC San Diego's faculty in 1989 in the physics department. She retired as a full professor in 2007. The university continues to host the Sally Ride Science Festival annually on campus.

"We are grateful for the legacy she leaves, through her myriad accomplishments as a scientist, teacher, mentor and friend, and her leadership in establishing the Sally Ride Science Festival, which has motivated thousands of students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math," said Fox in a release.

Caltech professor Fiona Harrison, Ph.D., is Principal Investigator of NUSTAR, and helped launch the first on-orbit focusing telescope. As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, Harrison wrote proposals to Ride and the California Space Institute.

She described Ride as a pioneer, not only as a U.S. astronaut, but as a woman who encouraged other women to enter science, technology, engineering and math careers. 

"I remember I was in college when she became the first U.S. woman in space, and she was an example that broke stereotypes of women scientists," Harrison told Patch.

"I can't imagine any aspiring young women astrophysicist of my generation did not know about Sally Ride. She was a prominent role model for my generation," Harrison said. 

"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."

President Barack Obama called Ride "a national hero and a powerful role model."

"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," Obama said. "Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come."

Ride was working on her doctoral degree in physics at Stanford University in 1977 when she responded to an advertisement from NASA, which was looking for applicants to its astronaut program. She was among about 8,000 people who applied, and she was among 35 who were chosen.

She worked as a member of the ground crew for two missions of the space shuttle Columbia before being chosen as a member of the crew for the historic Challenger flight.

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"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Ride said in a 2008 interview cited on NASA's website. "... 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 flew twice aboard the shuttle Challenger and was assigned to a third shuttle flight, but the program was placed on hold after Challenger exploded shortly after launch in January 1986. Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the explosion.

She retired from NASA in 1987. Two years later, she joined the faculty at UC San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. She founded Sally Ride Science in 2001 to encourage kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Ride is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother Joyce; sister Bear; niece Caitlin; and nephew Whitney.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative. Checks should be made out to: UCSD Foundation. Also, in either the memo line or in an enclosed note please state that the gift is made in memory of Sally Ride or to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative (Fund 4191). Mail checks to Pam Werner, Executive Director of Development, UCSD Health Sciences Dev., 9500 Gilman Dr., #0853, La Jolla, CA 92093-0853. If you prefer using a credit card, please call Pam Werner at 858-246-1556. 

Nicole Charky and City News Service contributed to this article.

JCISKO July 24, 2012 at 03:36 PM
Fred Vail July 24, 2012 at 03:43 PM
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Ms. Ride--particularly from pancreatic cancer at the young age of 61. It's sad and ironic that while we celebrate her accomplishments in space, first as America's first female astronaut, and equally for her contributions as a role model and champion of math and science education among youth, that we also remember that statement we've heard so many, many times before: "We can land a man (or woman) on the moon, but we can't find a cure for cancer." Perhaps, Sally's biggest legacy will be that she inspired a future doctor or scientist to find a cure for that dreaded desease that has taken so many friends, family and heroes. I can vividly remember the deejays playing the 1965 Wilson Pickett 'classic,' "Mustang Sally," and the line from the chorus: "ride, Sally, ride." May she enjoy her final voyage into the heavens...and touch the face of God.
Sheriffchris July 24, 2012 at 03:44 PM
"RIDE SALLY RIDE" Rest in Peace Sally, forever in our memories..we shall never forget you !
Sooloo July 24, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Sally Ride died yesterday???
Phyllis Johnson July 24, 2012 at 04:12 PM
An exemplary life, well lived. You taught others to live their dreams and rise high as the sky!
Shchristy July 24, 2012 at 04:17 PM
Dear Sally, Ride on up to those stars you loved so much! Glad you accomplished so much for others in your short life here on Earth. Ride, Sally, ride!
Crissie July 24, 2012 at 05:15 PM
Not only was she a fabulous American and top notch scientist, she was fun. When she came off her first shuttle flight she said it was definitely "An E-ticket ride!" In Disneyland, her picture is on the wall as you exit the Lincoln Exhibit. She is grouped with 4 other adventurous individuals under the "Spirit of Inspiration". She truly is and will be a wonderful spirit of inspiration. My condolences to her partner and her family.
Jim Stergiou July 24, 2012 at 05:24 PM
Dr Ride was a leader and an exemplary role model for everyone. Her achievements in mathematics and sclence were great, but her contributions to society, as a shining example of what is great about America and her dedication to young people, will never be forgotten. God bless you, Dr Ride !!!
David Glass July 24, 2012 at 06:19 PM
An inspiration to all who set "lofty" goals. Since I first knew about her, I was intimidated but admiring of ANYone with Sally Ride's spirit, intelligence, drive, and presence. It's a great loss to society that a person of her quality is no longer with us. RIP from Knoxville, TN.
Kimberly Moore July 25, 2012 at 01:25 AM
Sally Ride is the best that will ever be. God Bless you and you family. I wil prayers are with you.
Jeff Holland July 25, 2012 at 03:21 AM
High Flight Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov'ring there, I've chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . . Up, up the long, delirious burning blue I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark, or ever eagle flew — And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God. "God Speed Sally"


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