Sally Ride, 1951 – 2012

By Phil Plait | July 23, 2012 3:51 pm

I’m sad to write that Dr. Sally Ride, the first US female astronaut to go into space, has died of pancreatic cancer. NASA has a wonderful page in tribute to this trailblazer, and there’s little I can add to it. You can read about her many contributions to the space program on her official astronaut bio page.

She was and will continue to be an inspiration to women and men across the world, and while she’s gone too soon, I’m glad she was here – and making a difference – as long as she was.

Image credit: NASA

MORE ABOUT: Sally Ride

Comments (40)

Links to this Post

  1. Fly in peace, Sally Ride! | ryuus Hort | July 24, 2012
  1. Mike

    My all-time favorite female astronaut. RIP, Sally…

  2. KaneHau

    So young… so influential… so sad.

  3. Chris Winter

    I just picked this up over at NASA Watch, then came back here to see you’ve already got it.

    Her dying so young was something I never would have expected.


    Sally Kristen Ride, Ph.D.
    1951 – 2012

  4. Spaceflightengineer

    I worked with Sally on preps for STS-7, Capeside. She was a great person, fun, professional, not at all full of herself.

    Fair sailing Dr. Ride. Thanks for enhancing my life along the way.


  5. Sad news. I’m oddly grateful that you were the one to inform me. Thanks. Is it OK to be furious at Biology? I know so little about her and yet I feel inclined to weep.

  6. Supernova

    She was so inspiring, a real-live hero and role model to countless girls of my generation.

  7. carbonUnit

    I’m sick and tired of losing great people to cancer…

  8. MadScientist

    What a horrible way to go for such a wonderful person. Although many people might think of her flights as the highlight of her career (perhaps even she would have seen it that way), I’ll remember her for her great enthusiasm and hard work actually promoting science – for me, it is that work which she is not publicly well known for which was among her best.

  9. KC

    Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
    And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings…

  10. A true American hero and the first name on the list of role models I point my daughters toward.

  11. Chris Winter

    Near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields
    See how these names are féted by the waving grass
    And by the streamers of white cloud
    And whispers of wind in the listening sky.
    The names of those who in their lives fought for life
    Who wore at their hearts the fire’s center.
    Born of the sun they traveled a short while towards the sun,
    And left the vivid air signed with their honor.

    – “I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great”
    by Stephen Spender

  12. Grand Lunar

    First heard this at the dinner table.
    Thanks for posting, Phil.

    Sally Ride truly was one of the greats of our time.

  13. Messier Tidy Upper

    Vale Sally Ride. The heroic woman who broke the glass sky and blazed a trail to the stars.

    She will not be forgotten having inspired so many and flown so high.

    My condolences to all her friends and family. Sad to hear this. :-(

  14. Messier Tidy Upper

    PS. Does Sally Ride have an asteroid or crater named after her? Anyone know? Nothing about one on her Wikipedia page or her NASA or other tribute pages that I could find. If not, she deserves one.

    I hope and would bet that a future spacecraft will one day bear her name too.

  15. shunt1


    I had no idea…

    I will write something more personal at a later date. We just lost the second most important woman in the history of the American space program.

    This news kinda “hit home” on a personal level, and no, I will not explain.

    Let us never forget Judith Resnik, because those two made everything happen together!

    They are flying in space together now….

    I will miss them both.



    ‘Dr. Resnik’s first space mission still caused some notoriety. Not only was she one of the first women in space, but in weightlessness, she displayed a halo of flowing locks, a startling sight to many viewers who were accustomed to seeing closely cropped men.”

    I will never forget her comment about how great her breasts looked in space! But that was Judy and her fantastic personality.

    Judy and Sally made a fantastic team and they could never have been as great as they were, without each other.

  16. shunt1

    People no longer remember that White Sands Missile Range was their primary landing site for military related missions. I knew both of these wonderful women personally and this news tonight kinda hit home.

    Sally was always the sober “military officer” and never did anything wrong. But her best friend Judy was like Kari Byron from Myth Busters and they made a great team together.

    Enough said, and I will miss these two women dearly…

  17. George

    Is the percentage of astronauts dying of cancer higher than the average of US population?

  18. Sad news. Well, at least Valentina Tereshkova is still alive.

  19. Nigel Depledge

    Carbon Unit (7) said:

    I’m sick and tired of losing great people to cancer…

    Yeah. We’re working on that . . .

  20. Mark

    What isn’t being reported is that her partner of 27 years is not entitled to any of the federal benefits that straight spouses of deceased astronauts are, for shame America.

  21. David C.

    I just saw this on my FB page from SpaceX; if it weren’t from then, I would have thought it was a hoax; totally sad, she looks much younger than her years; only got to know of her from the Augustine Commission, and was totally impressed by her; will miss her smile and wit; my condolences to her partner and family;

    @20 Mark, totally agree with you, for a country as advanced as America, it is falling behind the world in terms of social advances, such as fair treatment of LGTG; if there is a petition could someone post a link; thx

  22. #14 MTU:
    I don’t know if she has an asteroid named for her, but she doesn’t have a crater – yet. IAU rules say craters can’t be named for people during their lifetimes; they can’t be considered until three years after their death.
    The same rule doesn’t apply to asteroids; many people have been honoured in that way during their lifetimes.

  23. truthspeaker

    My understanding is she kept the cancer secret from the general public, so nobody besides her friends, family, and doctors saw this coming.

  24. Tara Li

    @20 – Thank you, Mark, for politicizing a personal tragedy. If Sally and Tam had wanted to be Symbols To Support the GLBT Movement, they would have done so. If Sally had wanted to be a spokesperson for the Pancreatic Cancer community, she could have at any time. From everything I’ve read, she was a very private person, who did her heroic deeds with quiet dignity. I doubt she really would have wanted to be *USED* this way after her passing. I have to wonder how her partner Tam is going to feel about this attention being focused on *her*.

    A great woman passed away – it really doesn’t matter if she was straight, gay, bi, poly, or polyurethane.

  25. mike burkhart

    I was saded by this news. Sally Ride will be missed.

  26. truthspeaker

    You’re right, Tara, her sexuality shouldn’t matter. But legally it does. Bringing that up is not politicizing a tragedy.

    Sally Ride’s family chose to acknowledge her partner in her obituary, and her sister Bear has talked about her sexuality to the press:

  27. @24 Tara Li: The NYTimes obit says: “The next day, Gloria Steinem, editor of Ms. magazine at the time, said, “Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists.” ” Actually I think it DOES matter, in much the way she was inspiring to many because she was female. It matters in the best, most positive way.

  28. Tara Li

    @26,27 – However, Dr. Ride *didn’t* make a big deal of it. So sorry – it *is* politicizing it. Her family may be trying to milk her death – but one of the things I admire about Dr. Ride is that she didn’t get all pushy once she became a hero. Some of us actually admire the quiet, private ones who do great things without asking for attention.

    If she’d publicly been a GLBT advocate while she was alive – cool. Doing this after she’s passed away is … rude, at the least, in my opinion.

  29. truthspeaker

    “Milk” her death? Really?

    Some of the politicians praising her are the same politicians who think gay people shouldn’t be able to get married. So we should just stay silent about the fact that Ride wasn’t heterosexual?

  30. @28: Remember: this isn’t a debate club where everyone’s on one side or the other. I didn’t comment upon whether @20 is “politicizing” (it is, imho) and whether or not it is desirable or appropriate (and I’m still not opinionating on that topic). I simply stated that it does matter, “in the best, most positive way.”

  31. Chris Winter

    @MTU (#14):

    Sally Ride does have an asteroid named in her honor. This is the main belt asteroid 4763 Ride, discovered on 22 Jan 1983.

    Here’s the official minor planets list:

    The orbital elements and other data:;sstr=4763

    Confirmation that it was named after her:

  32. Brian Too

    I feel bad, but I actually thought Sally Ride was one of the victims of the Challenger incident.

    Must have mixed her up with someone else.

    Regrets to her family.

  33. #33 Brian Too:
    You were mixing her up with Judy Resnik.

  34. @Neil Haggath : Or perhaps – although much less likely – Christa McAuliffe, the schoolteacher astronaut although it was her first flight and Judy Resnik’s second. Those were the two women lost aboard Challenger with two other women astronauts Kalpana Chawla and Laurel Clark perishing in Columbia disaster.

    BTW. If people are interested in female astronauts and what they’ve been through and accomplished and their stories – not just Sally Ride but also many of the 42 (so far) others – I’d like to recommend Bettyann Holtzmann Kevles’ book ‘Almost Heaven – the story of women in space’ (MIT Press, 2006.) if you can find a copy.

    Co-incidentally today – 25th July 2012 – marks the 28th anniversary of the first ever spacewalk by a woman, Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya in 1984.

    (Source : Page 20, ‘The Advertiser’ newspaper’s “Remember When” column, 2012 July 25th.)

    BTW. I’ve linked an online article – ‘Sally Ride: One (Former) Little Girl’s Memories’ by Veronica Arreola, director of the University of Illinois, Chicago Women in Science & Engineering Program – on Sally Ride’s inspiring other women to follow her weightless non-footsteps to my name here as some may find it interesting and not yet have read it.

  35. Vale veteran female astronaut Janice Voss as well.

    Also of cancer and, sadly, even younger than Sally Ride was. :-(

    Voss flew more missons than any other female astronaut – five in a tie with Susan Jane Helms – and was also leader of an exoplanet hunt.

    BTW. found that above link via this one :

    On Sally Ride’s passing which is worth reading too.

    In addition, if folks are curious, info on Svetlana Savitskaya can be found here :

    Via the usual fount of all knowledge. Second woman in space albeit a whopping nineteen years after Valentina Tereshkova and just ahead of Sally Ride who got the bronze for that category overall.

    PS. See link in my username here for female astronauts wiki.

  36. Allen Thomson

    In her post-astronaut career she served (as someone mentioned upthread) on the Augustine Committee, where she gave a truly memorable presentation. If your tolerance for committee meetings is limited, be sure to watch at least minutes 30 – 40.

  37. VinceRN

    To those arguing about the relevance of her sexuality: We should take our clue from her own life. Her life was not about her sexuality, it was about science, space and education, about inspiring girls to accomplish, to succeed. She did not make it political, she was not a lesbian scientist, she was a scientist that happened to be lesbian. She left that aspect of her life at home because it would interfere with the the purpose she had defined for herself, because it would put politics in front of science, and that seems to have worked out pretty well.

    Keeping her personal life out of the media and not letting it interfere with the very important work she was doing is one of the many things that makes her a great role model. She shows us that sexuality shouldn’t matter.

    There are a bunch of smart folks connected to this blog and likely some are gay, but it does not, and should not, matter. They are smart folks that share their education and opinions and often inspire others. It’s what you do that matters, not who you go home to.

  38. Kimberly

    Her sexuality may not have mattered to herself, but it does matter to everyone who ever thought they couldn’t accomplish something because of their sexuality. To every teenager who has considered or has taken their own life because they couldn’t bear being ‘gay’. Even if she wasn’t public about it, it matters now. To not acknowledge that she broke massive barriers and got as far as she did, while openly being with her partner, is nothing short of amazing, and worth knowing about.

  39. #35 MTU:
    I was assuming that most Americans would know who Christa McAuliffe was, and wouldn’t be likely – as you say yourself – to confuse her with Sally Ride.


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