Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, was taken from us today at the much-too-young age of 61 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
The idea of a female astronaut isn't that big of a deal anymore; we have astronauts of both sexes, of many different races, creeds, and religions. But in 1983? It was a HUGE deal. Sally Ride became more than just a woman to the girls who grew up watching her accomplish amazing feats in space. She became a symbol, proof that we could do anything we wanted. Girls were just as smart as boys, she proved. We could be mathematicians, physicists, engineers, and yes, even astronauts. The second we started doubting ourselves, all we had to do was look to the stars, to look at Sally Ride and see what we were capable of.
Both of Dr. Ride's trips into space took place on the Space Shuttle Challenger. On June 18, 1983, Challenger lifted off from Cape Kennedy, Florida, with Dr. Ride on board as a mission specialist for STS-7, making her the first American woman in space. Dr. Ride was just thirty-two years old at the time. So young to become such an icon and role model for a generation of girls! Her next mission was in late 1984; Dr. Ride was training for a third mission when the Challenger tragedy occurred. She served on the subsequent Presidential Commission investigating the accident.
After leaving NASA, Dr. Ride became a professor of physics at the University of California-San Diego. She founded Sally Ride Science in 2001, a program aimed at making science entertaining and interesting for children. The long-term goal of the site was to encourage students, particularly girls, to pursue science-related careers. It's comforting to know that while we were looking up at Sally Ride, she was looking right back at us.
The world is a little bit darker now that Sally Ride has left it. She influenced countless girls, showing us that our dreams were at our fingertips. All we had to do was work hard and we could achieve them.
Thank you, Dr. Ride, for all you gave us. You will be missed.