Sally Ride, 1951-2012

From the Associated Press via Yahoo! News:

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Space used to be a man’s world. Then came Sally Ride, who blazed a cosmic trail into orbit for U.S. women. With a pitch perfect name out of a pop song refrain, she joined the select club of American space heroes the public knew by heart: Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong and Aldrin.

Ride, the first American woman in orbit, died Monday at her home in the San Diego community of La Jolla at age 61 of pancreatic cancer, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.

Ride flew into space on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, when she was 32. Since then, 42 other American women followed her into space.

“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.

And not just young women.

Sally Ride was my first hero.

When I played Space Shuttle, one of the figures was always her.

When I dreamed of being an astronaut, I wanted to be her.

And I wanted to be an astronaut when I grew up.

I was three or four at the time, I suppose.  No one told me I couldn’t.

I understood that she was in some way Very Special for being the first US woman in space, but it would be many years before I fully understood the ugly implications of that specialness, and of course there are many ways in which I still don’t.

I started reading science fiction, and discovered computers (through my mom), and dreamed of spaceships and far-off worlds.

Over time being an astronaut seemed like a less practical pursuit, and I found other pursuits and other role models.  Still, when Columbia went down, I remember hearing Sally Ride’s testimony and being glad she was still around, still inspiring people, still patiently showing them sense, and still pushing out the boundaries of human knowledge.

Today she’s no longer around.

Sic itur ad astra.

May we carry forward your work, Sally Ride.

Both the quest for human equality and the quest to more fully understand and explore the cosmos.

Per ardua ad astra.

(I’m amused to discover, along with the rest of the world, that Sally Ride’s partner of twenty-seven years is a woman.  My four-year-old self chose better than he knew.  Sally Ride: still my hero.)

Further coverage: