Presidential Medal of Freedom to honor astronaut Sally Ride ’68

Marcella Park

Sally Ride ’68, the first American woman and youngest American to travel to space, will be posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the U.S. bestows on civilians.

She died in July 2012 of pancreatic cancer.

Ride will be among 16 recipients of the medal to be honored in a ceremony at the White House later this year.Other recipients this year include former President Bill Clinton and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.

Ride attributed her first interest in science to Westlake School life science teacher Elizabeth Mommaerts. During her three years at Westlake, she was on a partial tennis scholarship and was a nationally ranked player. After Westlake, she attended Swarthmore College for three semesters, and then spent some time as a professional tennis player. Eventually, she returned to school, this time at Stanford, and continued there until she earned her Ph.D. She then joined NASA. Her first space flight was in 1983.

“As a role model to generations of young women, she advocated passionately for science education, stood up for racial and gender equality in the classroom and taught students from every background that there are no limits to what they can accomplish,” a  White House representative said. “Ride also served in several administrations as an advisor on space exploration.”

Ride returned to both Westlake and Harvard-Westlake to speak at Women’s History Month assemblies. At Harvard-Westlake in 1997, she spoke about her feelings when she was in space.

In 2001, she started Sally Ride Science to motivate students, especially girls, toward careers in science.

“This year’s honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.