Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sally Ride, American Hero, Dead at 61

Marion Pellicano Ambrose

National hero, Sally Ride, died of pancreatic cancer yesterday. Ride was a former astronaut and physicist. After her space flights, Ride continued to inspire young people all over the world through her company, Sally Ride Space.

Sally’s first space flight was aboard the shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. Her second, also on Challenger, was October 5, 1984, logging 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards. She also was on the president's committee of science advisers. Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company, which motivates youngsters to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

"People around the world still recognize her name as the first American woman in space, and she took that title seriously even after departing NASA," Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander, said in a statement. "She never sought media attention for herself, but rather focused on doing her normally outstanding job."

When Ride first launched into space, feminist icons such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda were at Kennedy Space Center and many wore T-shirts alluding to the pop song with the refrain of the same name: "Ride, Sally Ride."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said 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," he said in a statement.

One of Ride's last legacies was allowing middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA's twin Grail spacecraft in a project spearheaded by her company.

"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," said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.

Ride's obituary said she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years and a co-founder of Sally Ride Science; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece; and a nephew.

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