Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away today at the age of 61.
Dr. Ride succumbed to a 17 month long battle with pancreatic cancer on July 23rd and leaves behind a powerful legacy that extended beyond her first voyage into space on June 18, 1983. After NASA’s Shuttle program was scaled back, she tirelessly pursued her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology, most recently starting Sally Ride Science in 2001, which creates science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students with a particular focus on girls.
Although we have lost the woman herself, her inspiration will undoubtedly remain.
Sally Ride’s first flight into space was as a mission specialist on STS-7 in 1983, the second orbital flight of the Challenger. (Watch footage from that flight above.) She would go into space again the following year, and was slated for a third trip in 1986 before the Challenger disaster of 1985 forced NASA to scale back the Shuttle program.
Thanks in part to these missions, Dr. Ride also became an advocate for taking action to stall climate change. In her words: “I kind of came out of my flight experience with a much greater appreciation for Earth’s environment and our impact on it. And that evolved rather quickly actually into an interest and concern about climate change and global warming,” she said. “Understanding our effect on Earth’s climate and then mitigating our effect on Earth’s climate is really the greatest challenge in front of us today, and in front of the next generation,” Ride added.
Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, with whom she co-authored several children’s books, her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; and her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science.