SOMETIMES, on campus, you could hear the quickened-pace question: “Did you see her, or meet her?”
The reaction to Sally Ride’s presence after she joined the University of California at San Diego faculty was not that accorded to merely a rock star. In the years that the likes of Dylan and Cobain would play UCSD, she was more strikingly regarded as a folk hero. She was an American pioneer in our midst.
Sally Ride, this trailblazing astronaut turned physics professor, for so long keenly studied — and then for so long taught — the laws of bodies in motion as one thread in her lifelong work in science and technology. So it’s especially fitting that Google unveils a “Behind the Doodle” animation that allows us to see Ride’s own inspiring life-trajectory in motion.
Sally Ride, in so many ways, still seems right out of central casting, as if the tale of an American space star was dreamt up in Los Angeles — where, in fact, she was born.
Google so often animates its home-page Doodles, but today, to celebrate what would have been Ride’s 64th birthday, the California tech titan devotes a charming two-and-a-half-minute animated video not only to Ride’s accomplishments, but also to how her Doodle was launched.
Artist Olivia Huynh narrates her approach to today’s series of Doodle animations, tracing Ride’s life from nationally ranked junior tennis player and then Stanford doctoral student to the ad that would change the course and mission of her life: She was one of about 8,000 people who responded to the notice by applying to become an astronaut. In 1978, she joined NASA, where she would remain for nearly a decade, twice flying aboard the Challenger space shuttle.
On her first mission in 1983, Ride became the first American woman in space, the youngest person ever in space (age 32) and the first known LGBT person in space.
After NASA, Ride would join the UCSD faculty in 1989; become director of the University of California’s California Space Institute; and in 2001, found the educational company Sally Ride Science. She was forever aiming to encourage the next generations to grow in math and the sciences.
As an inspiring role model, she seemed ever on the rise.
Then, three years ago, Sally Kristen Ride died of pancreatic cancer at age 61.
“As the first woman to launch into space, Sally Ride was a role model for generations of young women,” UCSD chancellor Marye Anne Fox said upon Ms. Ride’s death. “She was the epitome of bravery and courage. She dedicated her life and career to advancing science and technology, and encouraging young students to reach for the stars.”
Ride was an “American hero and stratospheric trailblazer who devoted her life to pushing the limits of space and inspiring young girls to succeed in math and science careers,” California state Sen. Ricardo Lara said earlier this year. Lara has been pushing for Ride’s likeness to be included in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall — two years after she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“What has been missing in many programs around the country is diverse role models in science and engineering,” Tam O’Shaughnessy told the Los Angeles Times in February, in vocal support of Lara’s campaign. O’Shaughnessy, Ride’s longtime partner and leader of Sally Ride Science, wrote Google’s blog post about today’s Doodle.
Some years after I sat with former San Diego Padres owner John Moores, he gave money for the new home of the eminent UCSD Moores Cancer Center. Upon Ride’s death in the summer of 2012, the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative at Moores Cancer Center was set up.
Still today, on the UCSD campus as elsewhere, an American trailblazer’s sense of mission is ever seen, met and felt.