Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to go to space, has died at age 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Her first of two trips to orbit at age 32 also made her the youngest American (up to that point) to travel to space. She’s the only person to serve on both investigation boards for shuttle accidents Challenger and Columbia. After the Columbia tragedy, she had little doubt we’d keep dreaming: “Studying whether there’s life on Mars or studying how the universe began, there’s something magical about pushing back the frontiers of knowledge. That’s something that is almost part of being human and I’m certain that will continue.”
Ride had bachelor degrees in Physics and English and an M.S. and PhD in Physics from Stanford University. It was while she was studying for her PhD that she spotted a newspaper ad for NASA applicants. In 1978, she and 5 other women and 29 men were chosen from 8,000 applicants for the first NASA astronaut class which would even consider allowing women to study. Yes, we were still that bigoted just two years before the frikkin eighties.
In addition to breaking barriers in space travel, Sally Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player as a youth, wrote five science books for kids, and founded Sally Ride Science in 2001 to motivate girls to pursue STEM careers. She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She was a two-time recipient of the NASA Space Flight Medal. She also received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was cooler than you.
She was survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; and her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Although Sally Ride never came out in the press, her friends and family knew she was gay. Ride’s sister, Bear Ride (awesome name), tells Buzzfeed, “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
Sally Ride spent only 14 days, seven hours, and 46 minutes in space, but her legacy is unending.