President Obama and NASA announced that they will posthumously honor the first American woman in space, Sally Ride, with the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom. They timed this decision to coincide with a national tribute to the astronaut’s legacy that took place Monday at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington.
Ride inspired countless girls across the United States to break barriers to scientific achievement, and captured the nation’s imagination when she boarded the Challenger spacecraft in the summer of 1983 and blasted off into space and history books. After she left NASA in 1987, she co-founded Sally Ride Science, which motivates young people, especially girls, to pursue their passions in STEM fields. For her lifetime of accomplishments, she has been inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. The legend died at the age of 61 last year from pancreatic cancer.
President Obama issued this statement:
We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women. Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, will be awarded on Ride’s behalf in a White House ceremony later this year. In addition to the medal, NASA established a new internship program in her honor that will target underserved students. The Sally Ride Internship will help aspiring scientists pursue research interests at NASA and allow them to work alongside NASA physicists and engineers.