Sally Ride—the first American female astronaut and an influential role model and advocate for STEM education—died yesterday from pancreatic cancer at age 61.
Her impressive resume included not only two flights to space aboard the space shuttle Challenger, but also working as a prominent physicist in academia, holding a leadership post at NASA, and being a member of panels investigating two shuttle accidents.
But one of her passions was working to inspire young people, especially girls, to become interested in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In 2001, she started the private company Sally Ride Science, which she once said was intended to "make science and engineering cool again," according to The New York Times, providing STEM-oriented educational programs, materials, and teacher training. She also wrote several science books for children.
President Barack Obama issued a statementyesterday lamenting her death and offering a tribute.
"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model," the president said. "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools."