‘One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.’ Those words, spoken by astronaut Neil Armstrong as he took his first steps on the moon -- the first ever person to do so -- have been forever embedded in history. An astronomical conquest, indeed. Following him have been many others, and one such notable astronaut who sadly passed away last week, on July 23, 2012, was Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.
Ride was born in Encinco, a part of Los Angeles, California. She was interested in science early on, and took a particular shine to physics. She earned a grand total of four university degrees, including a doctorate in physics.
In 1978, she answered an advertisement seeking applicants for the NASA space program, and was promptly selected. She made her first journey into space in June 1983, aboard the US space shuttle Challenger. As well as being the first American woman in space, she was also- and still remains- the youngest American astronaut to be launched into space, at the age of 32.
An enduring legacy
Sally Ride embarked on another space mission the following year, and was scheduled for a third trip when the Challenger space shuttle broke apart. She then served as a member of the presidential commission that investigated the causes of that same fatal accident, in addition to many others. After this, she left NASA, but not before having changed the face of its space program for the better.
She then went on to become a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and served as a science fellow at Stanford University. In 2001, Ride launched Sally Ride Science, a venture dedicated to creating science programs and publications for young students, and to instilling a love of science and learning in them. In addition, she also wrote five children’s books on science.
Ride passed away at the age of 61, after a 17-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer. Her death has sparked off a barrage of public remembrance, with thousands of people blogging and Tweeting about what an inspiration she was to them.
Her claim to fame was not the mere title of ‘first American woman in space’; rather, it was that she paved the way for so many others, and dedicated her life to ensuring that more children, especially girls, got involved in science through her foundation. She was truly a pioneer in her time, and her legacy manifests itself through her life’s work. She will never be forgotten.