It was announced on May 20, 2013 that President Obama would be awarding the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Dr. Sally Ride. The medal is the highest award given to civilians who have “made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Dr. Ride, a physicist and astronaut, joined NASA in 1978 and at the age of 32, entered into low Earth orbit in 1983. Although most widely known as being the first lesbian American woman to travel to space on the Space Shuttle in 1983, Dr. Sally Ride has become a legend in the education of children in science. After leaving NASA, her work focused on education of STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers and encouraging young girls to participate in these fields. Dr. Ride also founded Sally Ride Science in 2001 to provide materials and opportunities for K-12 STEM educators. In addition to her work in gender and racial equality in classrooms, Dr. Ride worked with the multiple Administrations to increase diversity in STEM classes and careers.
Dr. Sally Ride was also inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and is being honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom a year after her death. In addition to the medal, NASA has established an internship program in Dr. Ride’s honor that targets underserved and underrepresented students, aspiring to become scientists pursue interests and work with NASA physicists and engineers.
Upon announcing that Dr. Ride would be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Obama said, “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, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy.”
Dr. Sally Ride died last year of pancreatic cancer, and although she is being honored posthumously, she will hold a significant place in history as an advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights (although not widely known until her death), and the rights of all children who dream of traveling to space.