WASHINGTON - NASA and President Obama are honoring the life and legacy of Sally Ride on the day a national tribute was held for the first American woman in space.
The president announced Monday afternoon Ride will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony at the White House later this year. The Medal of Freedom is the nation's highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
"We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women," said President Obama. "Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy."
Monday night, NASA further paid tribute to Ride by creating a new agency internship program in her name and renaming a science instrument aboard the International Space Station. The announcement was made by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden during a national tribute called, "Sally Ride: A Lifetime of Accomplishment, A Champion of Science Literacy," at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
The Sally Ride Internship is intended to help students from underserved backgrounds pursue a research interest at one of NASA's centers nationwide. As many as 10 internships total will be available in the spring and fall semesters of each school year, giving students the opportunity to develop a meaningful professional experience and work side by side with practicing scientists and engineers who are helping the United States lead the world in exploration and discovery. The internships also will encourage students to go into careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), of which Ride was a strong and longtime proponent.
NASA also is recognizing Ride by renaming a camera aboard the space station the Sally Ride EarthKAM. Through Sally Ride Science, hundreds of thousands of middle school students have participated in space research by using EarthKAM. Students use the Internet to request images based on their classroom investigations, and the image collection and accompanying learning guides and activities are extraordinary resources to support lessons in Earth and space science, geography, social studies, mathematics, communications, and even art.
"Sally's impact on our nation and future generations of explorers is immeasurable," said Bolden, who served with Ride in NASA's astronaut corps in the 1980s. "God speed, Sally Ride, and thank you for reminding us to reach higher, break barriers and dream big."
Monday's tribute highlighted Ride's contributions and her legacies. The celebration included longtime friends and colleagues who worked side-by-side with her to motivate and inspire girls and boys to study the STEM fields.
"Sally Ride Science is thrilled to be presenting a National Tribute to Sally to honor her lifelong commitment to space exploration, but also to improving science education and to supporting science literacy for all students," said Tam O'Shaughnessy, Ride's life partner, co-founder and chair of the board of Sally Ride Science.
In addition to space exploration and science, the tribute was built around others things that had special meaning to Ride, including sports, music, dance and poetry. Those were represented by the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras playing Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune"; Twyla Tharp's "Jordan" dance; Patti Austin singing Tena Clark's "Way Up There"; and Maria Shriver reading Mary Oliver's poem "The Summer Day."
Speakers at the tribute included Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, who talked about how Ride changed STEM education and policy, and NASA's Associate Administrator for Education and former astronaut Leland Melvin and former astronaut and space shuttle commander Pam Melroy, who spoke about Ride's impact on the astronaut corps, the space program and beyond.
"I'm thrilled to pay tribute to Sally because her dedication and superb talent cemented the value of women's contributions in space and in science, smoothing the path for all women to achieve success," said Pam Melroy, former NASA astronaut and space shuttle commander. "Sally showed the world what was possible, opening the eyes of millions of women and men to what could be. Her achievements in space inspired a generation of young women, and her achievements in STEM education will pass that legacy of inspiration on to future generations."
Ride died on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Ride's first space flight was 30 years ago next month, on June 18, 1983.
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