Jul 232012
Sally Kristen Ride, Ph.D.

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

Sally was born on May 26, 1951, in Encino, California, and she spent her childhood there. As a young girl, Sally was fascinated by science. She credited her parents with encouraging her interests. Sally grew up playing with a chemistry set and a telescope. She also grew up playing sports. She competed in national junior tennis tournaments and was good enough to win a tennis scholarship to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.

In 1977, Sally already had degrees in physics and English from Stanford University and was about to finish her Ph.D. in physics when she saw an ad in the Stanford student newspaper saying that NASA was looking for astronauts. Up until then, astronauts had been military test pilots—and they all had been male. But now NASA was looking for scientists and engineers, and was allowing women to apply. Sally immediately sent in her application—along with 8,000 other people. From that group, 35 new astronauts, including six women, were chosen to join the astronaut corps. NASA selected Sally as an astronaut candidate in January 1978.

Sally’s astronaut training included parachute jumping, water survival, weightlessness, radio communications, and navigation. She enjoyed flight training so much that flying became one of her hobbies. During the second and third flights of the space shuttle Columbia, she worked on the ground as a communications officer, relaying messages from mission control to the shuttle crews. She was part of the team that developed the robot arm used by shuttle crews to deploy and retrieve satellites.

In August 1979, after a yearlong training and evaluation period, Sally became eligible for assignment as an astronaut on a space shuttle flight crew. She was selected as a mission specialist for mission STS-7 aboard the shuttle Challenger. When Challenger blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on June 18, 1983, Sally soared into history as the first American woman in space.

Accompanying Sally aboard Challenger were Captain Robert L. Crippen, the spacecraft commander; Captain Fredrick H. Hauck, the pilot; and fellow mission specialists Colonel John M. Fabian and Dr. Norman E. Thagard. This was the second flight for the orbiter Challenger and the first mission with a five-person crew. During the mission, the crew deployed satellites for Canada (ANIK C-2) and Indonesia (PALAPA B-1); operated the Canadian-built robot arm to perform the first deployment and retrieval with the Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-01); conducted the first formation flying of the shuttle with a free-flying satellite (SPAS-01); carried and operated the first U.S./German cooperative materials science payload (OSTA-2); and operated the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) and the Monodisperse Latex Reactor (MLR) experiments. The crew also activated seven Getaway Specials—small experiments sent into space by private individuals or groups. The mission lasted 147 hours before Challenger landed on a lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on June 24.

“The thing that I’ll remember most about the flight is that it was fun,” said Sally. “In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun I’ll ever have in my life.”

Sally’s second flight was the 13th shuttle flight, STS 41-G, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on October 5, 1984. The crew of seven—the largest to date for a shuttle mission—included Crippen as commander, Captain Jon A. McBride as pilot, fellow mission specialists Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan and Commander David C. Leestma, and two payloads specialists, Commander Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power. During the 8-day mission, the crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and conducted scientific observations of the Earth with the OSTS-3 pallet and Large Format Camera, as well as demonstrating potential satellite refueling with an EVA and associated hydrazine transfer. After 197 hours in flight, Challenger landed at Kennedy Space Center on October 13.

In June 1985, Sally was assigned to the crew of STS 61-M, but mission training was halted in January 1986 after the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crewmembers. Sally served on the Presidential Commission investigating the tragedy. After the investigation was completed, she was assigned to NASA headquarters as special assistant to the administrator for long-range and strategic planning. There she wrote an influential report entitled “Leadership and America’s Future in Space,” and became the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration.

Sally retired from NASA in 1987. She became a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. In 1989, Sally joined the faculty at the University of California San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute.

In 2001 she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her long-time passion for motivating young girls and boys to stick with their interests in science and to consider pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. The company creates innovative classroom materials, classroom programs, and professional development training for teachers.

Long an advocate for improved science education, Sally co-wrote seven science books for children—To Space and Back (with Sue Oakie); and Voyager; The Third Planet; The Mystery of Mars; Exploring Our Solar System; Mission Planet Earth; and Mission Save the Planet (all with Tam O’Shaughnessy). Sally also initiated and directed NASA-funded education projects designed to fuel middle school students’ fascination with science, including EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM.

Sally was a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board, and she served on the boards of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the NCAA Foundation. Sally was a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, and she served on the boards of the Aerospace Corporation and the California Institute of Technology. She was the only person to serve on the commissions investigating both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters.

Sally received numerous honors and awards. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was twice awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal. In 2012 Sally was honored with the National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award.

Sally Kristen Ride, Ph.D.
1951 – 2012
Trailblazing First American Woman In Space