First American woman in space, Sally Ride ’68, dies of pancreatic cancer

By David Lim

Sally Ride ’68, the first American woman in space and the youngest person in space, whose interest in science was sparked by her Westlake School science teacher, died Monday in her La Jolla home of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.  

Ride, who was a nationally ranked tennis player, attended Westlake on a partial tennis scholarship and attended Swarthmore for three semesters before getting her bachelors, masters  and Ph.D. at Stanford. She joined NASA in 1978 after responding to an ad in the Stanford Daily for women who would like to be astronauts.

She flew aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 for her historic flight.

She returned to both the Westlake and Harvard-Westlake campuses to address students as part of Women’s History Assemblies, and talked about the importance of women studying science.

She credited her interest in science to her Westlake teacher, Elizabeth Mommaerts.

After retiring from NASA, Ride worked in education and founded her own company Sally Ride Science in 2001 to motivate students, especially girls, to pursue careers in science.