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A Tribute To Sally Ride

Floating on the Middeck, Sally Ride floats alongside Challenger's middeck airlock hatch.
Floating on the Middeck, Sally Ride floats alongside Challenger's middeck airlock hatch.
San Diegans Remember Sally Ride
Sally Ride's First Voyage In Space
A Tribute To Sally Ride
GuestsDr. Jeffrey Kirsch, Executive Director, Reuben H. Fleet Space Center. Adam Burgasse, Associate Professor of Physics, UC San Dieog Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences.

CAVANAUGH: Our top story on Midday Edition is the death of astronaut sale ride, the first U.S. woman in space. At the news of her death yesterday at age sixty-one, President Obama said she inspired young girls to reach for the stars. Sally ride spent most of her career here in San Diego becoming director of the California space institute at UCSD and founding her own educational company, Sally Ride Science. I'd like to welcome doctor Jeffrey Kirsch, executive director of the Ruben H. Fleet Space Center. KIRSCH: Pleasure to be here. CAVANAUGH: Adam Burgasse is associate professor of physics at UC San Diego Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences, welcome to the show. BURGASSE: Thank you very much. CAVANAUGH: Doctor Kirsch, you worked with Sally ride in the '80s and '90s in San Diego. What was she like to work with? KIRSCH: Well, she was tremendously dedicated to the task that she had. And she did do it her way. We worked more as colleague, just comparing notes, not as -- actually working together. But Sally ride science was unique. CAVANAUGH: It was Sally Ride science! [ LAUGHTER ] KIRSCH: And she had this great desire to make it clear to young girls but also children in generally that this was an activity that they can get a lot of joy out of. And I think she succeeded. CAVANAUGH: You use the word passion. And that comes up a lot. Did you ever learn or did she allude to where her passion for science equipped? KIRSCH: It was always there since she received a doctorate in physics. And your fellow guest here is a physicist. They're ability to understand a lot of things that I never kid. So I think that by the time -- she seemed to be really anxiety to get out of the limelight in a sense, and I don't think that would typify her at a younger age. But I do think that she was very he'sed with the choices she made. CAVANAUGH: You talk about her programs succeeding in interesting young people, especially girls in science, even more than we might be popularly known. How success. Have these programs been? KIRSCH: Well, the numbers I don't know. But I was very jealous of her ability to get things started all over the country. She was able to convince people that this would be a great thing. In San Diego we have the San Diego science and engineering festival that we're helping to sponsor at the fleet. And in many -- if you look pack, try to figure out the trajectory of this concept of science festivals, she probably was one of the founders movement. The head of the national festival is also from San Diego, and he was part of the team that started the one in San Diego. So she has had spinoffs, which I always think of as a great legacy, that there are other people now doing what she did. And science festivals in her days were special days dedicated to science. And that's what the festivals are about. But how you confer a number on that, all I can tell you is what it's changed the fleet and the park. CAVANAUGH: Adam, you knew sale as an instructor when you were going for your why you were graduate degree. She had a passion for teaching. What was your experience? KIRSCH: Well, I had her as a research advisor. I was fortunate enough to work with her on a couple projects. So similar observations. She had a will, she had a vision of what she wanted to do, she was not afraid to get involved in the details, but her passion came across. And that's why some of the projects going on are still did going on. We had a camera we placed on the space station, and instead of us taking pictures, it was groups of high school and middle school students who decided who parts of the earth that he wanted to see. That took mace over a few shuttle missions. It's still on the space station. And now they have cameras on a couple of NASA satellites that are orbiting the moon. And they have been able to take pictures of that. And kids are making those decisions. Earth cam and moon cam. CAVANAUGH: Was she like a visiting celebrity professor or a hands-on research colleague and instructor? BURGASSE: Well, I think she taught places at SDSU, a new science class, and she was there ins research lab work with us as she were designing this projects. CAVANAUGH: How could you not be inspired with the first woman in spacing there? There has been a lot made about how famous she was but how modestly she wore that fame. She didn't write a film aware. Did you experience that kind of low key approach? KIRSCH: Definitely. She really wasn't that interested in talking about it. And the times that I chatted with her, her postastronaut life, this is just speculation, had made a determine who she was gonna be for the rest of her life. And she took advantage of it in a way that did not glorify her at all. That she wouldn't use her own celebrity status to help girls get interested in a field this for years had been neglected in terms of women making career choices. I think that was her decision, and she really put effort into that. But she never traded on the celebrity status at all. CAVANAUGH: What do you think is the best way to honor Sally Ride? KIRSCH: To support what is going on right now in science education. Wee all bullpen trying to have people understand that science and technology, engineering, mathematics and art combine into something -- must be part of the curriculum to a greater extent than it has been. One of the things that upsets me, is with all the testing going on in the schools, science in the fifth grade for example, your grade is given 7%, and everybody is focusing on English and mathematics. Math, mathematics is a fundamental, but there has to be better equal abrasion when dealing with young people. And I think she would agree with that. CAVANAUGH: And after having worked with her, what do you think is the best way to honor her memory? BURGASSE: Well, I think in the same lines of emphasizing science in our core curriculum, but also seeing science as an exploration, as something fun. And that's part of what she does, expose kids in a fun way that it's fun to discover scientific principles. Astronauts and scientists start off with very big dreams.

Archive: KPBS interview with Sally Ride on the 25th anniversary of her historic space flight
A Tribute To Sally Ride

Sally Ride's Contribution To Science Education

Sally Ride Science


Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative

Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died Monday in La Jolla after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her website, She was 61.

"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love," a statement on the website read. "Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless."


In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She blasted off aboard Challenger, culminating a long journey that started in 1977 when the Ph.D candidate answered an ad seeking astronauts for NASA missions.

Ride joined the faculty at UC San Diego as a physics professor in 1989. She was inducted into the San Diego Women's Hall of Fame in 2006 with the title of Spirit of Women's Hall.

According to her official biography, by the time Ride decided to apply to become an astronaut, she had already received degrees in physics and English and was on her way to a Ph.D in physics from Stanford University.

According to her NASA biography, Ride went back into space in October of 1984. She was assigned to another mission after that, but it was scrapped after the shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

Ride was also a science writer and president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. As NASA puts it, the company allowed her to "pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology."


Born in Encino, Calif. on May 26, 1951, Ride was a "tomboy," racing her father for the sports section of the newspaper when she was 5 years old, according to Karen O'Connor, who chronicled her early life in "Sally Ride and the New Astronauts."

Becoming an astronaut had a bit to do with luck. The same year she started job hunting, NASA opened up its space program to people beyond military pilots.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America's space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "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."

In 2008, Ride talked to KPBS’ “These Days” about her groundbreaking flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

“I felt like I was doing something extraordinary for myself," she said. "That’s something I’d dreamed of doing since I was a young girl, and to actually get a chance to strap into a rocket, blast off a launchpad, travel 17,500 miles an hour, float weightless in space and look back at the spectacular view of our planet was just something I never would have believed was possible.”

Ride said the experience of being in space is indescribable—like nothing you will ever feel with two feet on Earth.

“I think the thing that was most striking to me was a view of our planet, looking back on our planet, and the appreciation that that gives you for how fragile our planet is,” she said.

Ride wrote many books, including "The Mystery of Mars," "Exploring our Solar System" and "The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space."

"Sally's historic flight into space captured the nation's imagination and made her a household name," Sally Ride Science said in its statement. "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."

Ride is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney.

Corrected: July 24, 2024 at 11:21 PM PDT
NPR News contributed to this report.