Sally Ride, first American woman in space, dies at 61 after bout with cancer

Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 10:35 am
Jul. 23, 2012
Sally Ride, first American woman in space, dies at 61 after bout with cancer
By LISA M. KRIEGER | San Jose Mercury News

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- ]

Former NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride, a Stanford-educated physicist who used her clout to inspire generations of future women scientists, died on Monday after a 17-month bout with cancer. She was 61.

"Sallymania" swept the nation in 1983 when Ride became the first American woman - and then-youngest American astronaut - to rocket into space, manipulating a 50-foot-long robot arm to retrieve a 3,200-pound satellite from aboard the Challenger space shuttle.

Smiling and smart, strong and confident, she was comfortable in a world dominated by crew-cutted men, igniting the imagination of nerdy girls who couldn't see themselves in the "World and Space" pages of Childcraft encyclopedias.

"NASA has lost a great role model, the nation has lost a great hero, and Ames has lost a great friend," said S. Pete Worden, director of NASA Ames Research Center in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Once earthbound, Ride dedicated herself to founding San Diego-based Sally Ride Science, an organization that helps create engaging science programs for tweens, especially young girls. She also co-founded the Girls Scouts' Camp CEO, which introduces minority girls to professional women, and frequently spoke about the importance of strong science education.

"When I was growing up," during the Space Race with the Soviet Union, "it was really cool to be a scientist or engineer," she told a conference at the University of California, Berkeley last year. "We need to make science cool again."

Friends and colleagues were startled and saddened by the unexpected loss of someone who contributed so much. Ride died at her home in La Jolla, Calif., of pancreatic cancer.

"She could have been head of a major aerospace corporation, turning her expertise into a way to make a lot of money," said Joyce Richards, who worked with Ride while leading Girl Scouts of Northern California.

"But that wasn't her goal," she said. "Her goal was to stimulate girls' interest in math, science and technology. She was really passionate about the idea that girls need to be taught science in new and different ways - and that girls are more engaged through connectivity, by doing things."

Etta Heber, director of education at Oakland's Chabot Space and Science Center who shared panel discussions with Ride, called her "a trailblazer, opening doors for countless women. She encouraged girls to dream big, and follow those dreams - their passions."

"Her strength was her ability to work through any political issues or academic issues that interfered with science, technology, engineering and math careers," she said. "She was very clear and direct about fighting the good fight."

Ride was born in Los Angeles, and credited her parents with encouraging her interest in science through chemistry sets and a telescope. She built her academic foundation at Westlake School, a girls' prep school in Beverly Hills known for its academic excellence.

She was a "fleet-footed 14-year-old with keen blue eyes, a self-confident grin, and long, straight hair that perpetually flopped forward over her face," recalled childhood friend Susan Oakie, later a reporter for The Washington Post.

Ride seemed to enjoy being an enigma, Oakie later wrote. Her favorite songs in high school were Simon and Garfunkel's ballads about personal isolation. The quotation she chose to head her senior write-up in the Westlake yearbook was, "I do not think, therefore I am a moustache," Jean-Paul Sartre's parody of Descartes' "I think, therefore I am."

But then she met a teacher who became her inspiration: Dr. Elizabeth Mommaerts, a sprightly, middle-aged Hungarian woman with a doctorate in human physiology. Mommaerts marked Ride early for a research career.

At Stanford, she earned three degrees in physics - including her doctorate in 1978 - as well as a bachelor's in English.

She also excelled in sports, ranking nationally as a junior tennis player and joining Stanford's first women's rugby team, enjoying its mud-caked, stress-relieving appeal.

She applied for a job at NASA after reading an ad in the Stanford Daily and was named one of the first six women to the astronaut corps. In 1983, she became America's first woman in space.

At a Johnson Space Center news conference after her historic flight, she dismissed questions about her historic role, saying: "I didn't come into this program to be the first woman in space. I came in to get a chance to fly in space."

She endured, with good humor, questions ranging from whether she eventually wanted to be a mother to whether she thought women ought to be astronauts. She was asked: Do you cry when things go wrong during flight simulations? Ride, without rancor, replied: "No, I think I respond the same way the men respond."

Ride spent more than 343 hours in space before leaving to work at Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control.

Then she turned to education, her life's second passion.

Other female astronauts, such as International Space Station crew member and fellow Stanford alum Susan Helms, cited Ride as their inspiration. Helms came to Stanford in 1984 to study engineering - but after hearing a talk by Ride, she knew she wanted to be an astronaut "right then and there."

"I've come to realize I will be a role model, even though that's not what I intended it to be," Ride once said.

"What I intend to do is as good a job as I can - and I hope that will serve as the role model."

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Reply Tue 24 Jul, 2012 10:44 am
I noticed that McClatchy Washington Bureau didn't write a complete story of Sally Ride's life. It left out the important person in her life. BBB

Tam O'Shaughnessy: About Sally Ride's Partner Of 27 Years
By Connor Adams Sheets
July 23, 2012

Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy was Sally Ride's partner for 27 years, but their partnership was cut short Monday when Ride, the first American woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer at just 61 years old.

Ride was an American heroine, looked up to by a generation of science lovers ever since she made history by blasting into space on NASA's shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. On that day, she became the first American woman in space.

But her longtime partner, O'Shaughnessy, is a very accomplished woman in her own right.

O'Shaughnessy was by Ride's side throughout the astronaut's 17-month battle against cancer, and, before Ride became ill, they co-authored four books, including "Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and Its Climate -- and How Humans Are Changing Them" and "Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System."

O'Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University, is also chief operating officer and executive vice president of Ride's foundation, Sally Ride Science, where the duo and their staff nurtured young students and worked to encourage them to pursue their passions in science, technology, engineering and math.

Like Ride, O'Shaughnessy was interested in science from a very young age, and "one of her favorite childhood memories is of watching tadpoles in a creek gradually sprout legs, go green and turn into frogs," according to her bio on the Sally Ride Science website.

After moving on from tadpoles to high school, O'Shaughnessy attended Georgia State University, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in biology. She went on to teach college biology, then went on to earn a doctorate degree in school psychology from the University of California, Riverside, after her interest in the psychology of learning was piqued by her experience as a professor.

O'Shaugnessy has gone on to do many things in her career, writing nine childrens' science books, as well as helping her partner "found Sally Ride Science because of her long-standing commitment to science education and her recognition of the importance of supporting girls' interests in science," according to the foundation's website.

Though Ride was open about her partnership with O'Shaughnessy, it does not appear to have been a controversial topic.

The two became partners in 1985 -- two years after Ride's history-making NASA flight -- but they first met while playing tennis at the age of 12 years old. They were together until the very end, when Ride died Monday in La Jolla, Calif., after inspiring a nation to dream big.

In addition to O'Shaughnessy, Ride is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin; and her nephew, Whitney.

Those who are so inclined can click here to donate to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative.

(Photo: sallyridescience.com)<br>Tam O'Shaughnessy (pictured here) was Sally Ride's partner for 27 years, but their partnership was cut short Monday when Ride, the first American woman in space, died of pancreatic cancer at just 61 years old.

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