President Barack Obama, NASA and Navy praise Sally K. Ride on 30th anniversary of first American woman’s journey to space

“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.”

-President Barack Obama

TUESDAY, JUNE 18: It’s the 30th anniversary of the morning America’s first woman rocketed into space: At age 32, Sally K. Ride blasted off aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Upward of 250,000 people came out to watch Ride take off, and following the famed space flight, Ride was featured on countless magazine covers and headlines. (Access photos at Three decades later, President Barack Obama will award a posthumous Presidential Award of Freedom to the doctor in astrophysics.

While Ride “broke the ultimate glass ceiling” during her infamous ride, she pushed on to become a physics professor at the University of California and to direct the university’s Space Institute. In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science to provide classroom materials and professional development opportunities in science, technology, engineering and math. In particular, Sally Ride Science focuses on motivating young women to pursue science-related careers.

Women have broken many glass ceilings, but NASA’s ceiling was solid until 1983. “We all admire Dr. Ride, but I don’t know that everyone in the room appreciates fully and remembers fully the history of what she accomplished,” said Margaret Weitekamp, a curator in the Smithsonian’s space history division who spoke at a May 17 event for the Sally Ride anniversary. (Watch part of the Smithsonian event, and read more, in this article.) Women had been working in space-related programs since the 1950s, but naysayers kept them from reaching outer space for decades. Following Ride’s breakthrough trip, 44 female American astronauts have flown into space.

Aside from Barack Obama’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, several other tributes will be made to Ride this year: NASA recently created a new internship program named after her; the EarthKAM science instrument on the International Space Station boasts her name; and the United States Navy’s first academic research vessel to be named for a woman is dedicated to Ride. The oceanographic ship is set for launch in 2015; a biography of Ride’s life is due out in 2014. (Read an article from the biographer at Parade.) A gala in Ride’s name took place at Washington, D.C.’s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts this spring.

Sally Ride died in July 2012 of pancreatic cancer. But, Sally Ride Science continues to thrive. Upon news of her death, thousands shared sentiments. (Check out the article here.) Tom Hanks put it this way on CNN’s Facebook page: “God Speed, Sally Ride. She aimed for the stars. Let’s all do the same.”

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(Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, interfaith news and cross-cultural issues.)

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