Losing a true hero: Sally Ride will be missed but her impact on science education will continue

The first American woman in space, Sally Ride is dead at age 61 from pancreatic cancer. (AJC File)

The first American woman in space, Sally Ride is dead at age 61 from pancreatic cancer. (AJC File)

I was stunned this afternoon to learn about the death of Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, from pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Ride inspired many girls to consider careers in science. And dozens of local teachers attended her Sally Ride Science Academy.

Two years, ago, I moderated a roundtable about encouraging and inspiring girls to pursue careers in science, math and technology. Dr. Ride hosted the event and served as a panelist, along with Dr. Barbara Baumstark of Georgia State and Dr. Beverly Tatum of Spelman. I had interviewed her years earlier while a reporter in Florida, but spent a lot more time with her during this event.

Dr. Ride was inspiring,  warm and funny. She talked about her proud her dad was when she was chosen for the space program as he was able to brag about his daughter the astronaut rather than his daughter the physicist. People understood what astronauts do; they weren’t quite sure what physicists did.

Dr. Ride was committed to encouraging girls to study the sciences, noting that women made up only 25 percent of the science, engineering, and technology workforce (including social scientists) and only 11 percent of engineers.

At the time, she had launched Sally Ride Science, a science education company that creates programs and products for students and teachers in elementary and middle school—and has a particular focus on encouraging girls. Dr. Ride was also a Professor of Physics (Emerita) at the University of California, San Diego. She received her B.S in Physics, B.A in English, and M.S. and PhD in Physics from Stanford University.

According to her bio from that event: She flew in space twice, first in 1983 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, then again aboard Challenger in 1984. While at NASA, she directed NASA’s first strategic planning effort, and founded and served as the first Director of NASA’s Office of Exploration. She is the only person to have served on both the Presidential Commission investigating the Challenger accident and Columbia Accident investigation board. Dr. Ride was a member of the President’s Council of Advisers on Science and Technology for eight years. She is a member of the boards of Caltech and The Aerospace Corporation, has received numerous awards, including the Lindbergh Eagle, the Von Braun Award, and the Jefferson Award for Public Service. She has twice been awarded the National Spaceflight Medal, and is an inductee into the Astronaut Hall of Fame and the California Hall of Fame.

--From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

33 comments Add your comment

Pride and Joy

July 23rd, 2012
7:45 pm

I am heartbroken we don’t even mention Sally Ride in education today. My children were taught about drug addict, Whitney Houston, but not Sally Ride.

bootney farnsworth

July 23rd, 2012
8:11 pm

wow. I feel really old today.
not supposed to outlive national heroes.


July 23rd, 2012
8:14 pm

Sad day. I remember doing a report on Dr. Ride when I was in 4th or 5th grade in the late 80s.


July 23rd, 2012
8:25 pm

I am in awe of all the astronauts and especially Miss Sally. We need serious and talented cancer researchers right now more than we need engineers. Have a good ride Sally.


July 23rd, 2012
8:42 pm

My daughter has pursued her degrees in astrophysics in part because of the inspiration of Dr. Ride. Really cool how someone can have such a profound influence on so many (to the good.)


July 23rd, 2012
8:47 pm

She flew in the stars and now returns to them. Godspeed, Dr. Ride.

2nd grade teacher

July 23rd, 2012
8:54 pm

How sad. Many of my students, especially girls, found her so inspiring, believing they can be anything they want because of her. May she rest peacefully among the stars.


July 23rd, 2012
9:58 pm

Just heartbreaking. I hope that soon our medical advances in curing pancreatic cancer will equal Dr. Ride’s accomplishments.

Dr. Monica Henson

July 23rd, 2012
10:11 pm

I wrote one of my very first college newspaper editorials about Sally Ride when she was blazing a trail into the stratosphere, back in 1983.


July 23rd, 2012
10:44 pm

“We need serious and talented cancer researchers right now more than we need engineers.”

Most of the talented people working on extending treatment methods for cancer are engineers (chemical, biological, mechanical, electrical,…).

The other thing to remember is that no none is working for a cure. There is no money in a cure. We are working on better treatment programs. We’re not going to kill the “cash cow” with a cure. It doesn’t make sense from a corporate standpoint.

David Granger

July 23rd, 2012
11:46 pm

Dr. Ride was a true hero to many of us…women, gays, and men alike. Rest in Peace, Sally…Boldly Go!


July 23rd, 2012
11:50 pm

Dr. Ride is a personal hero of mine, and I was lucky that , thru my aunt who was at the time a project oversight manager at a NASA subcontractor, I was able to meet her briefly and shake her hand in 2000 when i was 16. Other than my Aunt, Dr. Ride and Dr. Resnik (who sadly passed in the challenger tragedy) have been huge influences on my life and why i went into engineering…They were the first generation really in letting girls know we are actually equal if not better at math, science , and engineering than boys we just have to fight the cultural influences that steer young girls in other directions .

RIP Dr. Sally Ride

Patricia Tomlinson

July 24th, 2012
12:01 am

I remember well how exciting it was to realize a woman was circling our planet in the space shuttle. It opened up real possiblities to young girls that dreams can come true and goals above and beyond the normal expectations for girls were attainable. Nothing is impossible and Sally Ride was one who proved the point through example. It was shocking and saddening to hear of her death today.

@ Pride and Joy…I am not sure where your children attended school, but in my 30+ years of teaching pop stars were not considered educational role models but also were not ignored as being a part of the world in which my students lived. Mainly they were shocked I knew who these people were. Did I teach lessons about their lives? No… scientists, mathematicians, authors, historical figures, etc. were the normal educational focus.

Dragonfly Lady

July 24th, 2012
3:05 am

Dr. Ride was one of the driving forces behind me becoming a middle grades science teacher. She will be sorely missed, but she will never stop inspiring me to reach for the stars.


July 24th, 2012
3:56 am

@pride and joy…

Teach your children above and beyond what they learn at school (I am sure you probably do, from your comment). I would never have taken my life path if I had only absorbed the very limited , slow paced, redundant information presented in my classrooms k-12 (especially 8-12). I Hated getting picked up from school in the afternoon just to be taken to Kaplan to crack the books again , but when you look at it from the other side of the timleine, there is nothing worth attaining that does not require great sacrifice,


July 24th, 2012
5:29 am

Sally Ride did more to advance the education of women and to cause women to consider careers in sicence than anyone in the moderen world. Because of her, girls could aspire to become astronauts, scientists, and other careers that , until that time, belonged exclusively to men. She was also a superb role model. We have lost not only a great astronaut but also a great person. She will be missed.

Walter Todd

July 24th, 2012
6:33 am

Dr. Ride was a role-model of a good American patriot, a determined scientist, a contributor to the national space program, a hard working teacher, dedicated public servant, and a challenger to the status qua. She was a rare and inspiring leader for both women and men in the field of science and national service! You have showed us the high trail to follow. Go with Grace and Confidence!


July 24th, 2012
7:27 am

I was honored to be able to give Ms. Ride a tour of our testing facility about 8 years ago. I spent about 30 minutes with her explaining our machines and loading capabilities. I was chosen to do this job because I happen to be the only woman in our group of 60 engineers. She was very nice and very warm. Our group (not me – I was too young) happen to be the one who tested the first space shuttle (structurally). Yesterday’s news was a total shock to me, Ms. Ride looked very healthy when I saw her. She will be missed in our aeronautical world. RIP Sally.

Howard Finkelstein

July 24th, 2012
7:48 am


July 24th, 2012
8:08 am

My best friend died of pancreatic cancer. It is one of the deadliest, with early detection almost impossible. Maybe the untimely death of this icon will not only bring attention to women in space, but to the deadly disease as well.


July 24th, 2012
10:00 am

Why do women get so much more credit for doing the exact same thing men have already done? I thought the goal was to be gender neutral.

Maureen Downey

July 24th, 2012
10:15 am

@Solutions, I don’t know. I think Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin got a lot of credit for their firsts.


July 24th, 2012
10:30 am

Solutions: Remember, women were “too delicate” to go into space. And “too delicate” to go to school, to college, be doctors or lawyers or Congresspeople, play full-court basketball…..the list goes on and on and on and on. Ad nauseum.


July 24th, 2012
10:37 am

@Solutions, that’s just it only men were doing it…..she was a pioneer and that should be recognized, as you stated men have already done it, but didn’t John Glenn get credit for being the first man in orbit? I thought this was a comment page honoring Dr. Sally Ride, and not trying to start a gender discussion, which I’ll be glad to oblige you on another day.


July 24th, 2012
10:45 am

Women make pretty good fighter pilots, their bodies withstand the G forces better than male bodies. The human body is the limiting factor in high performance aircraft, such that manned fighters will soon become obsolete, vectored thrust not withstanding.


July 24th, 2012
1:09 pm

No doubt Sally was an extraordinary person, as were most of the folks who came through the space program.

@Good Mother

July 24th, 2012
2:13 pm

So yet again you are unhappy with what your children are being taught in school? Didn’t you post months ago ad nauseum that you have removed them from school and sent them to a private school? Evidently you’re still not happy. Have you considered homeschooling? I’m sure someone with so much to say about education would relish putting her money where her mouth is.

Pride and Joy

July 24th, 2012
3:18 pm

Patricia Tomlinson, you wrote “@ Pride and Joy…I am not sure where your children attended school, but in my 30+ years of teaching pop stars were not considered educational role models but also were not ignored as being a part of the world in which my students lived. Mainly they were shocked I knew who these people were. Did I teach lessons about their lives? No… scientists, mathematicians, authors, historical figures, etc. were the normal educational focus.”
Down in APS we have black history. What I expected was the virtues of Dr. Martin Luther King and Frederick Douglas and other black history heros were to be taught to my childrne. Instead, APS turned black history month into black worship. My children learned about drug addicts like Whitney Houston, never mentioned the real contributions of women like Sally Ride. All APS wanted was famous black people, regardless of why they were famous.
Whitney was a talented entertainer. I have ALL her CDs. She isn’t; however, worth mentioning in schools to children. APS saw the most important qualification in Whitney — she’s black, well black enough, anyway.
I was appalled that my children got indoctrinated all month long about famous black people instead of people who contributed to society who were black. There is a big difference.

@Good Mother/Pride and Joy

July 24th, 2012
6:42 pm

That’s absolutely not what was taught at Mary Lin. I can tell you that for a fact. If all that your children (who apparently have the same teacher) can remember from Black History Month is Whitney then you need to work on their retention skills (apple and tree spring to mind…)
But then, how could you possibly know what was taught at Mary Lin when your kids are at private school? Lies have a habit of catching up with you, GM….


July 24th, 2012
6:48 pm

“Shoot for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll wind up among the stars!” (-Anonymous) R.I.P. Sally!

Ole Guy

July 25th, 2012
12:05 pm

RIDE SALLY RIDE! Both as a fellow aeronaut and as an inspiration to this then-30-something, she will be missed.


July 25th, 2012
2:40 pm

Ironically, the 115th birthday of Amelia Earhart, the “Lady Lindberg” and the “Sally Ride” of her time took place this week, possibly with 24 hours of Sally’s passing.

Pride and Joy

July 26th, 2012
8:29 am

To @Good Mother — I saw the presentation myself as I passed through my child’s APS school in the hallway. There was Whitney Houston being idolized during black history month.
You must be a teacher in APS for the way you defend everything in APS. Face it, APS has some schools that are brighter than others but it is not much to brag about when a school is better than the rest in the APS district because the APS district as well as Dekalb, is the bottom of the education barrel and the barrel (GA) is on the bottom of the heap of barrels. GA continues to be about 46 to 48 out of 50 states.
So, if it makes you feel better to know your kid is in the “better” APS or Dekalb schools, good for you but for me and millions of other Georgians, 46th place out of 50 is never good enough.