When Sally Ride died in 2012, one of the first things I saw when I logged on to Facebook after work was a post from a friend, commenting on the obituary I had just posted minutes before: "Ride Sally, Ride! What a great inspiration. Rest in peace!"
My friend is one of many who publically mourned a personal hero upon hearing of her death. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space – and also the youngest American in space – inspired generations of women who were blown away by the pleasant-seeming, normal-looking, and completely brilliant and driven young woman who burst onto the national radar in 1983. She broke one of the toughest glass ceilings there was – and American loved her for it. Especially American women.
Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut, communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six day mission of the Challenger. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Information Agency)
In the hours after Ride's death, we read of Katie Couric's respect for her, via Twitter: "Sally Ride is truly one of my heroes and has inspired so many women. Very sad day, please let us continue to share her story." Twitter also showed us that she inspired Sarah Palin: "Sally Ride was an inspirational trailblazer for American women. We're all grateful for her example. She will be greatly missed." We read moving blog posts and tweets from celebrities and regular folks who agree that Sally Ride challenged them to reach for the stars.
In Ride's Guest Book, too, we saw condolences and messages of admiration from those who looked up to her:
This great lady was my hero growing up. She inspired me to learn and use my skills to be the best I could be. Thank you Sally Ride, God Bless You. ~ Amy Showers, Beaumont, Texas
I remember it all as if it was yesterday. I was 16 and really into astronomy and science and Ms. Ride's shuttle mission was the highlight of that for me. Unfortunately i didn't pursue the sciences since I am abysmal in math but I none-the-less felt so very inspired! It was so cool, cover of all the magazines at the time and I thought we (girls/women) have FINALLY arrived at NASA! She will be dearly missed and I send my thoughts and prayers to her family at this time. ~ Tami Bramblett, Independence, Missouri
You encouraged, inspired and challenged young women everywhere. Thank you and you will be missed. May God bless you. May the Lord stay with your family and hold them close. ~ Cheryl Millican, Peculiar, Missouri
I remember reading about Sally in the weekly newsletter we received in elementary school. I was so excited to see that a female could go into space, I remember telling my mother I wanted to be just like her. Rest In Peace Sally - thank you for showing girls of the 80's that we could achieve anything! ~ Mindy, Dallas, Texas
Dr. Ride; You were an inspiration to me, a sign that if I only worked hard enough, then, I'd be in the skies as well. I didn't exactly become an astronaut (severe asthma kept me from even trying), but I made it to the top branch in my career. Like you, I made it without having to act, speak and pretend I was a man. Hearing of your death today is quite a blow - the woman in whose footsteps I had followed would no longer leave footsteps. I suppose a simple "what would Sally do?" should work as well. May you rest in peace, knowing that you inspired a generation of girls to shoot for the stars. ~ Kathy Nicklas-Varraso, Quincy, Massachusetts
One of the most common threads of these tributes was that even people who were never destined for the sciences – or space – have looked to Sally Ride as an inspiration. We can honor her memory, today and always, by reaching for the stars – no matter what it is we do.
Written by Linnea Crowther