Former NASA astronaut Sally Ride died today after losing her battle with pancreatic cancer. A physicist, Dr. Ride was the first American woman in space and spent the rest of her career encouraging girls and young women to pursue science careers.
Ride was among the first group of NASA astronauts to include women in 1978. In 1983, she became the first American woman to fly in space on the seventh space shuttle mission, STS-7. She flew a second time on STS-41G in 1984. She was assigned to another mission, but it was delayed following the 1986 space shuttle Challenger tragedy.
Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger accident and afterwards was assigned to NASA headquarters to look at the future of the space program. The 1987 "Ride Report" recommended a return to the Moon and, someday, journeys to Mars, but cautioned that Mars missions should be a step, but not the next step, for the U.S. program. Her report also recommended a Mission to Planet Earth, which popularized the phrase as describing a long term series of robotic earth observing missions that came to include NASA's Terra, Aqua and Aura spacecraft.
Ride left NASA soon after the report's completion to return to academia. Her marriage to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley ended in divorce about the same time.
In addition to academic posts at Stanford and UC San Diego, she founded Sally Ride Science to motivate girls and young women to study science.
She also was a member of the commission that investigated the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, the only person to serve on both space shuttle accident investigations.
Today, Sally Ride Science said that Ride had "the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits." It added that "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" as well as the staff of Sally Ride Science and many friends and colleagues.
Many people and organizations are posting tributes to Ride, including NASA, her ex-husband Steve Hawley via NASA, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
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