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Sally Ride dies at 61; first American woman in space

Sally Ride, an L.A. native who held a doctorate in astrophysics from Stanford, was also the youngest American in space when she flew aboard the Challenger in June 1983.

July 23, 2012|By Thomas H. Maugh II

In 1989, she became director of the California Space Institute at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and a professor of physics at UC San Diego. In 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to encourage women and especially young girls to become interested in science. She also wrote five children's books encouraging an interest in science.

Joy A. Crisp, a deputy project scientist at JPL, remembers watching with keen interest as Ride became the first American woman in space. The engineering and space-science fields were still very much a men's club. "She was the first," Crisp said Monday in an interview with The Times. "And after her came many other women. She made an important difference."

"She reached out to so many young women," Crisp said. "It got women and girls excited — they'd say: 'Hey, I could really do this.' She made it fun and interesting. She clearly saw that it was important to be that role model. It was something she could do to give back."

Sally Kristen Ride was born May 26, 1951, in Encino. A straight-A student, she was easily bored in school until her interest in science was stirred by a high school physiology teacher, Elizabeth Mommaerts.

Ride was also a tomboy and especially adept in tennis. She took lessons and was ranked 18th nationally on the junior circuit, receiving a partial scholarship to Westlake School for Girls, now Harvard-Westlake School.

Tennis pro Billie Jean King saw her play and told her that she could become a professional, and Ride enrolled at Swarthmore College to play tennis. But she decided that she didn't have sufficient dedication to the game and switched her interest to physics and transferred to Stanford.

While at NASA, Ride had one other first. On July 26, 1982, she and Steven Alan Hawley became the first active astronauts to be married. During a hearing, Rep. Larry Winn Jr. (R-Kan.) asked her how she would feel when Hawley was in space while she remained on the ground. "I am going to be a very interested observer," she replied.

The two were divorced in 1987.

Ride was the only person to serve on both the panel investigating the Challenger disaster and the panel investigating the 2003 shuttle Columbia disaster.

She received a number of honors, including twice being awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal. She has been inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger inducted Ride into the California Hall of Fame in 2006, and incoming President Clinton named her to his transition team.

Ride is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Karen, known as "Bear"; and a niece and nephew.

Times staff writer Scott Gold contributed to this report.

Twitter: @LATMaugh

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