Sally Ride, who made history in 1983 by becoming the first U.S. woman to venture into space, passed away Monday of pancreatic cancer. Ride was 61.
Sally Ride is remembered for her historic mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger, but she is also remembered for all she did to promote gender equality in the sciences.
An intensely private woman who never felt comfortable with her celebrity status, Sally Ride proved women could equal man’s accomplishments in space.
Sally Ride looked to inspire girls and young women to venture into careers in the sciences and math. Her San Diego-based education company, Sally Ride Science, promotes scientific careers for young women and has inspired countless females to strive for careers once believed reserved for men.
One of the young women inspired by Sally Ride’s historic 1983 mission was astronaut Eileen Collins. Collins became the first female shuttle pilot and, subsequently, commander in the 1990s.
Collins was stunned to learn of Sally Ride’s tragic passing. “Sally left us too soon,” Collins said in a statement from NASA. “God Speed Sally, you will be greatly missed.”
Sally Ride, a physicist, never became fully comfortable with her celebrity status. Her astronaut ex-husband, Steve Hawley, said Monday that Sally Ride found herself “a very public persona,” and “it was a role in which she was never fully comfortable.”
“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 continued.
Sally Ride overcame tremendous sexism before her historic space flight. At one point before the mission, she was once asked if she would wear a bra in space. “There is no sag in zero-g,” Ride responded.
Ride once complained, “It’s too bad this society isn’t further along and this is still such a big deal.”
Sally Ride flew just twice to space, aboard Challenger both times. She was prevented from a third trip with the space shuttle Challenger tragedy just three years after her historic flight.
In 2003, Sally Ride gave an interview to The Associated Press in which she said, “It was a huge honor. On the other hand, it sure did complicate things. I’m the sort of person who likes to be able to just walk into the supermarket and not be recognized. I can do that most of the time now.”
“A lot of people recognize the name. Very few recognize my face. That’s very good,” she added, laughing. “That is very good.”
A statement found on the Sally Ride Science website reads:
“Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.”