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Sally Ride: UCSD colleague remembers first U.S. woman in space

July 23, 2012|By Nika Soon-Shiong | Los Angeles Times
  • Sally Ride on the space shuttle. She later became a physics professor at UC San Diego.
Sally Ride on the space shuttle. She later became a physics professor at… (NASA )

Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space, lost her battle with pancreatic cancer Monday at the age of 61. She flew two missions on the space shuttle and after leaving NASA she worked at Stanford University and then UC San Diego, where she was a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science to encourage kids to pursue careers in science, engineering and math.

George Fuller is a physics professor at UC San Diego who serves as director of the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences at the university. He talked with the Los Angeles Times on Monday about his pioneering former colleague.

How will Sally Ride be remembered at UCSD?

I knew Sally as a colleague in the physics department. She will be remembered as a talented physicist and an extremely gifted teacher. In general she was an incredible ambassador of science and astrophysics to the world. No student on the planet hasn’t heard of her.

How did students relate to her?

They loved her. She inspired a lot of students and probably inspired a lot of students to go into science.

What do you think made her inspirational to so many students?

She had some notoriety as an astronaut — she was the first [U.S.] woman in space, and that was a big draw for people initially. But then once she reached them it was clear that she was also a physicist and was genuinely excited about science.  She had an incredible gift for working with young people.

What is your professional experience with Sally Ride?

Her interests in physics were X-rays, and the free electron laser was her principal research interest at UCSD.  I work on nuclear particle astrophysics, which is a different subject area, but I talked a lot with her and I knew her quite well.

I could see her energy and talent. She retired from UCSD a few years ago and was devoted full time to her company that dealt with outreach to high school and middle school students around the country.

What is the best way to honor the strides Sally Ride made in the fields of science and astronautics?

Sally worked tirelessly to bring the excitement of space and science in general to the world.  That was her passion, and continuing that passion seems like the best thing we can do to commemorate her.

Return to the Science Now blog.

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