From left, astronauts Pam Melroy; Kay Hire; Cady Coleman; Kathy Sullivan; Tam O'Shaughnessy, Sally Ride's life partner and chair, board of directors of Sally Ride Science; astronauts Bonnie Dunbar; Sandy Magnus; Julie Payette; and Ellen Ochoa, pose for a photograph before a National Tribute to Sally Ride at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Monday, May 20, 2013 in Washington.
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls Ride's official astronaut portrait. She joined the astronaut corps in 1978. Credit: NASA Ride floats on the shuttle Challenger's mid-deck during her historic STS-7 flight in 1983. Credit: NASA
›View Photo Gallery 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.
› Program for National Tribute to Sally Ride (403 KB PDF)
About Sally Ride
In a space agency filled with trailblazers, Sally K. Ride was a pioneer of a different sort. The soft-spoken California physicist broke the gender barrier 29 years ago when she rode to orbit aboard space shuttle Challenger to become America's first woman in space.
Ride's contribution to America's space program continued right up until her death at age 61 this week. After two trips to orbit aboard the shuttle, she went on an award-winning academic career at the University of California, San Diego, where her expertise and wisdom were widely sought on matters related to space. She holds the distinction of being the only person to serve as a member of both investigation boards following NASA's two space shuttle accidents. She also served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee, in 2009, which informed many of the decisions about NASA's current human spaceflight programs.
"The selection of the 1978 Astronaut Class that included Sally and several other women, had a huge impact on my dream to become an astronaut. The success of those woman, with Sally paving the way, made my dream seem one step closer to becoming a reality," said Peggy Whitson, Chief of the NASA Astronaut Office.
However, Ride's place in history was assured on June 18, 1983, when she rocketed into space on Challenger's STS-7 mission with four male crewmates.
"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Ride recalled in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. "That was made pretty clear the day that I was told I was selected as a crew. I was taken up to Chris Kraft's office. He wanted to have a chat with me and make sure I knew what I was getting into before I went on the crew. I was so dazzled to be on the crew and go into space I remembered very little of what he said."
"On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad," Ride said. "I didn't really think about it that much at the time . . . but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space."
Ride joined NASA as part of the 1978 astronaut class, the first to include women. She and five other women, along with 29 men, were selected out of 8,000 applicants. The class became known as the "Thirty-Five New Guys" and reported to the Johnson Space Center the next summer to begin training. Ride trained for five years before she and three of her classmates were assigned to STS-7. The six-day mission deployed two communications satellites and performed a number of science experiments.
Following that historic flight, Ride returned to space on another shuttle mission, STS-41G in 1984. The 8-day mission deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, conducted scientific observations of Earth, and demonstrated potential satellite refueling techniques. She was assigned to a third flight, but transitioned to a role on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger accident after that shuttle was lost in January 1986. When the investigation was completed, she accepted a job as a special assistant to the NASA administrator for long range and strategic planning.
Ride left NASA in August 1987 to join the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, as a professor of physics and director of the University of California's California Space Institute. In 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.
A native of Los Angeles, Ride graduated from high school there in 1968 and enrolled at Stanford University. At Stanford, she earned four degrees, including a doctorate in physics in 1978. She also was an accomplished athlete who played varsity tennis at Stanford after being nationally ranked as a youth.
Ride received numerous honors and awards during the course of her career. Most notably, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award.