On Monday afternoon President Barack Obama awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former astronaut, physicist, and entrepreneur Sally Ride, who died last July at age 61.
In the announcement, Obama is quoted: “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.” The release adds that Ride's "partner, mother, and sister were notified last week of the President’s decision to award her with the Nation’s highest civilian honor." In 1983 Ride was the first American woman (and third woman ever) to enter Earth's orbit as a crew member aboard Space Shuttle Challenger. The announcment coincides with Monday's tribute to Sally Ride's life at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in D.C.
Ride joined NASA in 1978 after answering a newspaper ad placed by the space agency, and worked as a capsule communicator on the ground for six years before deploying to space at the age of 32. She completed a second space mission in 1984 and was preparing for a third when, in January 1986, Space Shuttle Challenger exploded off the coast of Florida in the middle of its vertical ascent, killing all seven passengers aboard. Ride served on the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger disaster before leaving NASA, in 1987, to become a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. In 2001, Ride founded her own educational company, Sally Ride Science, which worked educate young people, especially girls, about science.
Ride was an intensely private person, concealing a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer up until the day she died in 2012, as well as her 27-year relationship with her nearly lifelong partner, a 61 year old professor of psychology named Tam O'Shaughnessy. Ride has since been acknowledged as the first and only openly gay astronaut.