July 24th, 2012 by faye
Physicist and former NASA astronaut Sally Ride passed away on Monday due to pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old.
Known as the very first American woman astronaut to have gone in space, Sally Ride died at her home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, this according to Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman for her company called “Sally Ride Science.” McEntee added that Ride was a private person and that the details of her illness were known only to a few people close to her.
NASA said that Sally Ride went into space using the space shuttle Challenger back in 1983 when she was just 32 years old. After her flight, more than 42 other American women flew into space.
In a statement, President Barack Obama said, “Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars.”
Former astronaut and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that Sally Ride “broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program.” He added, “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Ride was a physicist, a president of her own company, and author of five science books for children. She also used to be a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego. She was selected as an astronaut candidate back in 1978 — the very same year she got her doctorate in physics from Stanford University. Sally Ride was said to have beaten five women to be the first female American to go into space. Her first flight came two decades after the Soviets sent out a woman into space.
“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 recalled during a NASA interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. “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,” she added.
Sally Ride went into space twice, both times using the Challenger in 1983 and 1984, logging 343 hours in space. Her supposed third journey into space was cancelled because Challenger exploded in 1986. Ride was on the commission investigating the accident and subsequently served on the NASA panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident — the only person to be on both boards. She was also on the president’s committee of science advisers.
The 20th anniversary of Ride’s first flight into space also coincided with the loss of Columbia — a bittersweet time for the female astronaut — who discussed it during a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. Ride acknowledged that it was depressing for her to spend the anniversary investigating the accident, which took the lives of seven astronauts.
“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,” Sally Ride said.
Later in the interview, she focused on science education and talked about “being a role model and being very visible.”
Former astronaut Norman Thagard, who was on the first flight of Ride, said, “She was very smart. We did have a good time.”
Thagard added during a phone call on Monday that it was all work on the first flight of Sally Ride, except for a first-in-space sprint around the inside of the shuttle. Thagard added he didn’t know who won.
One of the last legacies left by astronaut Ride was allowing students in middle school to take their own pictures of the moon with the use of cameras aboard the twin Grail spacecraft of NASA in a project spearheaded by her company, “Sally Ride Science.”
“Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that’s such a powerful thing. It’s extraordinarily admirable,” Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission, said in a statement.
The office of Sally Ride said that she is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece, a nephew and Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.