Sally Ride, who grew up in the Encino and graduated from Stanford, became in 1983 the first American woman to work in space. She was also the youngest American at the time to fly into space for NASA. She died today at home in La Jolla of pancreatic cancer; her company's website says she is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy; her mother; and other family members.
From what I've seen through the years, to call Sally Ride an inspiration to a generation of girls would be an understatement.
From her website's obituary at Sally Ride Science:
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.
Ride attended Portola Middle School in Tarzana and Harvard-Westlake when her part was still called the Westlake School for Girls. She studied at Swarthmore College, transferred to Stanford University (where she earned a bachelor's degree in English and physics, and a master's degree and a Ph.D. in physics), and applied for the space program off a newspaper ad.
From NASA's statement:
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."
Ride’s contribution to America’s space program continued right up until her death at age 61 this week. After two trips to orbit aboard the shuttle, she went on an award-winning academic career at the University of California, San Diego, where her expertise and wisdom were widely sought on matters related to space. She holds the distinction of being the only person to serve as a member of both investigation boards following NASA’s two space shuttle accidents. She also served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee, in 2009, which informed many of the decisions about NASA’s current human spaceflight programs.
Her first flight into space was about shuttle Challenger flight STS-7, which took off on June 18, 1983.
The White House released a statement from President Obama:
"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Sally Ride," Obama said in a statement. "As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally’s family and friends."
From the New York Times obituary:
Before the first shuttle flight, Dr. Ride — chosen in part because she was known for keeping her cool under stress — politely endured reporters’ asking whether spaceflight would affect her reproductive organs, whether she planned to have children, whether she would wear a bra or makeup in space, whether she cried on the job, how she would handle menstruation in space. The CBS News reporter Diane Sawyer asked her to demonstrate a newly installed privacy curtain around the shuttle’s toilet. On “The Tonight Show,” Johnny Carson joked that the shuttle flight would be delayed because Dr. Ride had to find a purse to match her shoes.
At a NASA news conference, Dr. Ride said: “It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”
The Soviets had already sent two women into space. One was welcomed aboard a space station by a male cosmonaut who told her the kitchen and an apron were all ready for her.
When the shuttle landed, Dr. Ride told reporters, “I’m sure it was the most fun that I’ll ever have in my life.”
* Added: Greg Hernandez, the veteran Los Angeles journalist, points out at Gay Star News:
Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Dr. Tam E. O'Shaughnessy.
The two women had first met when both were aspiring tennis players. O'Shaugnessy became a science teacher and writer who co-authored several books with Ride. She was also chief operating officer and executive vice president of Ride's company, Sally Ride Science.
Ride had been married to fellow NASA astronaut Steve Hawley during the high-profile years of her space flights.
More on O'Shaughnessy from International Business Times:
O'Shaughnessy was by Sally Ride's side throughout the astronaut's 17-month battle against cancer, and before Ride became ill they co-authored four books, including "Mission: Planet Earth: Our World and Its Climate -- and How Humans Are Changing Them" and "Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System."
O'Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University, is also chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride's foundation, named Sally Ride Science, where the duo and their staff nurtured young students and worked to encourage them to pursue their passions in science, tech, engineering and math.