Sally Ride, first American woman in space, has died

Dr. Sally Ride, an American physicist and former NASA astronaut, has died of pancreatic cancer. She joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman to travel into space. From a statement on her website:

Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

L-R: Shannon W. Lucid, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn D. Sullivan, Judith A. Resnik, Anna L. Fisher, and Sally K. Ride. NASA selected all six women as their first female astronaut candidates in January 1978, allowing them to enroll in a training program that they completed in August 1979.

From a post about Dr. Ride's legacy by Valerie Neal, space history curator of the National Air and Space Museum, published back in 2010:

Sally Ride made history as the first U.S. woman in space, but the feat is more nuanced. She and the other five women who were first selected to be shuttle astronauts each made history, through grit and determination and some dreaming, to be ready for the opportunity of spaceflight. They entered science and engineering in the 1960s as these fields began to open up to women. They came of age as the civil rights, equal rights, and women’s movements stimulated changes in American society and opened new career possibilities. They were poised to step through the door opened by NASA’s affirmative action policy and its aggressive recruitment of women and minorities for the astronaut corps.

Accomplished American women have flown in space since 1983, so it no longer seems newsworthy; it’s just natural. That is the history that flowed from Sally Ride’s shuttle mission.

Ride floats alongside Challenger's middeck airlock hatch. (Courtesy NASA)

From a post commemorating her life at

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.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally's family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."

“Sally was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. “Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere.”

From Dr. Ride's website:

In lieu of flowers, you may wish to make a gift in memory of Sally to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative (Fund 4191) at UCSD.

More on the memorial here.

(Thanks, Isabel Lara and Miles O'Brien)


  1. A real heavy punch of sadness – she was such a positive force and what I saw of TOY challenge was transformative. Thanks for reporting this so nicely Xeni.

  2. And she leaves behind Tam O’Shaughnessy, whom she’s known from age 12. My thoughts are with her. 

  3. That is a dirty shame, she was a total badass and I certainly will miss living in a world where she walked the streets.

  4. “The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And you have burned so very, very brightly.” We’ve all benefited so much from Sally Ride’s incredible life.

  5. I’m just stunned. She’s contributed to science, to the space program, and the women’s movement, all so momentously.  Thank you Sally Ride!

  6. When I was in middle school I was a member of the inaugural class of Space Academy California, the space camp-alike for middle-schoolers rather than elementary-schoolers.  My friend and I were part of the opening ceremonies at the Space Camp California campus in Mountain View.  I met Sally Ride there, shook her hand, and recieved a book signed by her.  I don’t believe I spoke more than two words to her (“thank you,” I hope), but that moment has affected me all my life.  She was one of my heroes, and realizing that she was a Real Person, not just the heroic figure I read about in my Secrets of the Universe cards, changed my perspective on the world and the space program forever; for the better, I think. 

    Rest in peace, Sally, you did great things for all of us. 

  7. I don’t remember if it was a commercial or where I heard this twist on lyrics,  but I still hum it  the Sally way to this day:

    Ride, Sally Ride on your mystery ship,
    Be amazed at the friends you’ve got there on your trip.
    Ride, Sally Ride on your mystery ship,
    Be aware of the things others just might have missed.


  8. I fully recognize what an inspiration Dr. Ride was to women in this country, and I celebrate that. But know that quite a number of us grown men have shed a lot of tears tonight.

    My sadness was alleviated for a second, I’ll admit, by the way some of you have referred to Dr. Ride.

    Sally was, indeed, a TOTAL badass.

  9. Also, Sally was a fan of Infocom’s adventure games such as Zork (back in the day, excerpts from her letter to the Infocom implementors used to be on the back of Infocom packages). You have to admit an adventure-playing astronaut is pretty cool.

  10. DIane Duane, on her blog, has reposted a suggestion that a Kickstarter campaign be launched to provide Dr. Ride’s partner with the funds that our government should be paying as survivor benefits, along with a campaign to shame our government for denying survivor benefits to the spouse of an astronaut, a hero, and a pioneer. Dr. Ride contributed massively to our nation and to the world. Her passing should not have been marred by discrimination.

  11. “Sally is survived by …her sister, Bear”
    Her sister’s name is Bear Ride. That’s easily one of the best names I’ve ever heard.

Comments are closed.