The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian honor the United States can award, created to recognize “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” In a ceremony yesterday, President Obama announced that he will be posthumously awarding the Medal to Sally Ride, the third woman, and first American woman, in space.
Said the President:
We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women. Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. 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.
Ride’s death at the age of sixty-one last summer came after a two-year battle with Pancreatic cancer and a post-NASA lifetime of supporting science education, especially for young children. Her company, Sally Ride Science, was dedicated to providing engaging science textbooks for young children. Due to Ride’s desire to keep her personal life private, Sally Ride Science’s announcement of her death was the first public confirmation that her longtime business manager and co-author Tam O’Shaughnessy was also her partner. This makes Ride, posthumously, the closest thing history has yet gotten to an openly gay astronaut of any nationality.
O’Shaughnessy and other members of Ride’s family attended the ceremony, where O’Shaughnessy presented Sally Ride Science’s tribute to the late astronaut, with poetry, song, and dance.
In addition to space exploration and science, the tribute was built around others things that had special meaning to Ride, including sports, music, dance and poetry. Those were represented by the Maryland Classic Youth Orchestras playing Claude Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”; Twyla Tharp’s “Jordan” dance; Patti Austin singing Tena Clark’s “Way Up There”; and Maria Shriver reading Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.”
Not wanting to be upstaged by the President, NASA announced a new internship program in Ride’s name, intended to pay the way for up to ten students of underserved backgrounds each school semester to pursue research interests alongside NASA scientists and engineers. They have also renamed a particular camera on the ISS after her, one that, through Sally Ride Science, was able to connect thousands of middle school children to space research by allowing them to request images from it.