Schiff, community remember Sally Ride
Member of the Challenger mission inspired thousands of girls, congressman says.
Astronaut Sally Ride floats alongside the middeck airlock hatch on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. (NASA)
Ride, who became famous for her presence aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, served on Caltech's board of trustees from 2000 to 2011 and also served on Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory committee. She died Monday at her La Jolla home after battling pancreatic cancer. She was 61.
In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, a company that has hosted nearly 100 science festivals for middle-school-aged girls on various college campuses, plus science summer camps and dozens of training sessions for science teachers.
From 2007 to 2011, Ride hosted conferences for high school and middle school science teachers at JPL's La Cañada Flintridge campus. JPL Director Charles Elachi said in a statement that Ride was “an extraordinarily gifted scientist and explorer who used her talents in many ways to make the future better for us all.”
Thousands of local children interacted personally with Ride during six science festivals on the Caltech campus.
Ride also collaborated with JPL to install a camera on its GRAIL moon orbiter, known as MoonKam, to allow students to photograph the lunar surface.
“I guarantee that there will be future astronomers, physicists and even JPL scientists who can trace their interest in science back to the day they heard Sally Ride speak at the Caltech auditorium,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), who attended several festivals with Ride.
Schiff said Ride could hold her audiences spellbound with tales of her 1983 journey on the Challenger and how she became an astronaut.
“I think her biggest legacy is not going to be as the first American woman in space. It's going to be that she inspired tens of thousands of girls to follow an interest in math and science, and gave them the confidence that they could achieve because of what she was able to do,” Schiff said.
Caltech mechanical engineering professor and vice provost Melanie Hunt, who participated in science festivals at Caltech, said Ride prioritized students as both an educator and a college trustee.
“It wasn't as though she just came and gave a talk,” Hunt said. “It was clear she wanted to communicate with young people.”
Caltech trustee board chairman Kent Kresa, formerly chairman and chief executive of the Northrop Grumman Corp., said Ride also sought to increase gender and ethnic diversity among managers at Caltech and JPL.
“Being the first American woman in space sort of made her a rock star, but she was very personable, very likable and very easy to talk to,” Kresa said. “She had great humility about her and was dedicated to education.”