Sally Ride, First American Female Astronaut, Dead at 61

In 1978, Sally Ride became the first American woman to go into space. This trailblazer, died July 23, 2012 after nearly a year and a half battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space, died July 23, 2012 at Encino, California, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.  Ride was 61.

Her name came right out of the pop era, Sally Ride, as in “Ride, Sally Ride,” and ride she did.  Sally Kristen Ride, born May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles, California, was already something of a trend setter by having a PhD in astrophysics, not something most women would identify with; when she answered a newspaper ad in the university paper in 1977 seeking entrants to NASA’s astronaut program.

Ride beat out thousands of other applicants and was selected to this prestigious program in 1978,  becoming one of the first women to be accepted and the first American woman to go into space in 1983 on board the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Ride had more than 340 hours in space and was preparing for her third flight when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and she was named to a presidential commission to investigate the disaster.

In 1987, Ride left NASA to work at Stanford University, and then worked as a professor of physics at the University of San Diego.  After a brief stay in San Diego, she left to form Sally Ride Science, an organization devoted to encouraging young women to enter the sciences.

Sally Ride received a number of honors during her career, including induction into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.  She received two NASA Space Flight Medals.  But, she will be remembered by everyone, not merely because of her scientific achievements, but because she will always exemplify the pop song, “Ride, Sally Ride.”  An icon for women and girls all over the world, her ride on earth was far too short.  One can only hope that she’s out there somewhere beyond the stars saying, with a shy smile on her face, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had.”