Remembering Sally Ride: High-Flying Female Astronaut and Pioneer for Science Education

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On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Yesterday, Ride passed away after a battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. 

Susan Okie is a science and medical journalist and Sally Ride’s best friend from high school. "She was in love with physics and the stars from the time I first knew her," Okie says. "She got excited about physics in ninth grade thanks to a science teacher." It wasn't until Ride, in graduate school at Stanford at the time, answered a newspaper ad calling for volunteers for the space program. From then on, she was determined to become an astronaut. 

Michio Kaku is a theoretical physicist and author of The New York Times bestseller “Physics of the Future." He comments on Ride's extensive work in the field of physics, in which she earned a bachelor's, masters, and Ph.D. She focused on the development of X-ray telescopes such as the Chandra telescope, which observes very faint emissions of black holes and supernovae. 

"What she specialized in was to see the universe with new eyes — with X-rays," Kaku says. "You can see frequencies emitted by black holes and exploding stars that are completely invisible to the ordinary eye." After her career as an astronaut, she returned to the physics field as a professor. 

During the White House Astronomy Night celebration in 2009, Ride reinforced the importance of science in elementary and middle school curriculums. "Science and technology are the engines that drive our economy, so the economic future of the country actually depends on the next generation of scientists and engineers," she said. 

In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, a program that encouraged young students, especially girls, to become interested in math and science. As her interest in physics was kindled in high school, Ride wanted to impress on children the opportunities that come along with studying in fields like chemistry, biology, and her beloved physics. 

"I think she was aware from having been on a number of panels that young girls often seem to lose confidence in their abilities in science and math at that age," Okie says. "It was a combination of wanting to engage them and make the classes more hands-on and more involved with interesting and fun experiments, and also to give kids that age a sense of what you could do with science."