Ride entered the history of space when she was 32; she and four male crewmates flew on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. Since then, 42 other American women have flown in space.
“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
“People around the world still recognize her name as the first American woman in space, and she took that title seriously even after departing NASA,” Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander, said in a statement. “She never sought media attention for herself, but rather focused on doing her normally outstanding job.”
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said in a statement, “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company, which motivates youngsters to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.
Sally Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. She was interested in science from childhood. She also excelled in tennis. Ride attended Stanford University where she earned four degrees: Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Bachelor of Science degree in Physics in 1973; a Masters degree in Physics in 1975 and a Ph.D. in Physics in 1978.
Dr. Ride applied to the astronaut program after reading an ad in the student newspaper seeking engineers and scientists to apply to become astronauts. More than 8,000 men and women applied to the space program that year. Of the 35 persons selected, six were women. One of these was Sally Ride.
Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley from 1982 to 1987. Hawley remarked that Ride was not always comfortable in the spotlight. “While she never enjoyed being a celebrity, she recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential,” Hawley said in a NASA released statement.
Her company, Sally Ride Science, was leading a project to enable middle school students to use cameras aboard NASA’s Grail spacecraft to take their own photos of the moon.
“Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that’s such a powerful thing. It̓s extraordinarily admirable,” said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.
Ride’s office said she is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years and a co-founder of Sally Ride Science; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; a niece, and a nephew.