Selected as an astronaut in 1978, Ride blasted off with four male colleagues on June 18, 1983, on space shuttle Challenger, the seventh flight of the program.
Sally K. Ride, the first American woman to orbit Earth, died Monday after a 17-month bout with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.
Ride’s death was announced on the website of Sally Ride Science, an educational organization that Ride founded in 2001. Her aim was to draw young people, particularly girls, into the world of math, science, engineering and technology.
“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.”
Ride, who held a doctorate in physics, authored seven children’s science books and spearheaded a campaign to let schoolkids operate a camera on GRAIL, a NASA moon-orbiting science probe.
Former husband Steve Hawley, a fellow former astronaut, said in a statement that Ride was a very private person who never became fully comfortable with her celebrity.
“She recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential,” said Hawley, who now teaches astronomy at the University of Kansas.
“Sally Ride, the astronaut and the person, allowed many young girls across the world to believe they could achieve anything if they studied and worked hard. I think she would be pleased with that legacy,” he said.
It was not widely known till after Ride’s death, but she was a lesbian and leaves behind her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, her mother, Joyce, a sister, a niece and a nephew.
There has since been discussion online about whether it was right for Sally to have not officially “come out” whilst she was still alive. Ellen Seidler, writer of And Then Came Lola, wrote, “Sally Ride left this earth knowing full well that she did want to go down in history as being an ‘out’ lesbian… Now tell me, how she could promote that [supporting interests in science, math and technology] vision in places where it, ironically is most need, were she to have come out as a lesbian? Sadly, creationism and science deniers are often the same folks who are proudly homophobic.”
What does everyone else think? At the end of the day, Sally was a great woman who opened up many doors for a new generation of females throughout the world.