Remembering Sally Ride, first American woman in space

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Astronaut Sally Ride died today of pancreatic cancer.  She was 61.

Ride floats alongside Challenger’s middeck airlock hatch. Photo: NASA
Ride, front row, left, with her STS-7 crewmates. In addition to launching America’s first female astronaut, it was also the first mission with a five-member crew. Image Credit: NASA

Ride was the first American woman in space, when she rocketed into the final frontier in 1983 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

When she wasn’t orbiting earth and meandering space, Ride spent most of her life in California. She was born in Encino, and attended Portola Middle School and Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles. She went off to college but transferred to Stanford University. There, she also earned a Master’s and PhD.

She was also a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego and Director of the California Space Institute.

Mike Wiskerchen is Emeritus Director of the California Space Grant Consortium, and recently retired from UC San Diego.  He spoke to KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis about Sally Ride’s life and work in space exploration, and inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in science and engineering.

“She was a brilliant physics student,” Wiskerchen said. But when it came to becoming an astronaut, he says Ride “just applied,” not planning to make it a career. Ride was a private person, Wiskerchen said, and hated the obligations that came with being a celebrity. “She really wanted to be an educator and a physicist, and she did the rest sort of as her duty,” he said.