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Utahns shocked, saddened by Sally Ride's death

Published July 23, 2012 5:52 pm

Sally Ride inspired girls to pursue science, reach for the stars.
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The death of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, shocked and saddened Utah's astronomy community.

Ride, 61, died Monday after fighting pancreatic cancer for the past 17 months.

While the news of her cancer and death shocked Ann House, that Ride fought until the end did not.

"I think we always can do more than we think we can do and I think we can always do more than what society places on us," said House, a NASA night sky ambassador and member of the Salt Lake Astronomical Society. "As individuals and especially women, we need to follow our dreams and keep fighting and follow your passion, just like Sally Ride did."

Pearl Sandick, an assistant professor in the University of Utah's Department of Physics and Astronomy who started the group Women in Physics and Astronomy last summer, lamented the loss.

"She has been such an inspiration to so many of us in the sciences. Not only was she the first American woman in space, she has also been a role model in her advocacy for improving science education and eliminating the damaging stereotypes that turn kids, especially girls, away from careers in science, math and technology," Sandick said. "She made a tremendous and enduring impact in many ways."

Patrick Wiggins, NASA/JPL solar system ambassador to Utah, was "stunned, surprised and saddened" at the news.

"For a long time, there were not female astronaut role models, even though we know there were very qualified women," Wiggins said. "Unfortunately, it took so long for NASA to realize it was time to let the other half of the population into space."

Utah State University sent a Get Away Special group of experiments on Sally Ride's second Challenger mission in October 1984, which also featured the first space walk by a woman, Kathryn D. Sullivan.

"Dr. Ride has been an inspiration to several generations of Aggie scientists who seek to follow in her footsteps," said Mary-Ann Muffoletto of USU's College of Science.

Seth Jarvis, director of the Clark Planetarium, remembers Ride's first mission in June 1983 as breaking barriers.

"There had been women in space for a long time, strong women in space, but they were all in science fiction," Jarvis said. "If you were looking for a real, live person who could be as inspiring to girls as Lieutenant Uhura in 'Star Trek,' there she was — accomplished, friendly and approachable."

He said he admired Ride not only for her scientific accomplishments, but also for shouldering the responsibility of talking to hundreds of thousands of school children about the ability for anyone who worked hard enough to reach the stars.

"She went around to schools to extol the virtues of 'Don't let people tell you what you can and can't do,' and I'm sure she was not trained to do that, but she did it so well," Jarvis said.


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