Sally Ride will receive the Medal of Freedom, a posthumous honor for the first American woman to fly in space.
President Barack Obama announced the award on Monday, calling Sally Ride a role model to young women. He noted that the groundbreaking astronaut advocated for innovation in science, engineering, and math.
The announcement that Sally Ride would receive the medal comes as America faces a growing crisis in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields, especially for young girls. The nation has fallen behind many other nations in testing in these areas, and enrollment for girls has grown smaller still.
By honoring Sally Ride, Obama can point to an example of what women can do in the STEM field.
Sally Ride rode on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. She would say later that being in space gave her a new perspective on life.
“You can’t get it just standing on the ground, with your feet firmly planted on Earth. You can only get it from space, and it’s just remarkable how beautiful our planet is and how fragile it looks,” Ride told CNN in 2008.
Sally Ride died in June 2012 after a long bout with pancreatic cancer and, in doing so, revealed another long-hidden part of herself. Ride co-wrote her obituary along with her lifelong partner, the first public acknowledgement that she was gay.
Her partner has been invited to the awarding of the Medal of Freedom, along with Ride’s family.
Though the revelation was surprising, Ride was remembered mostly for her great impact on the space program.
“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden after Ride’s death. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”
Sally Ride will receive the medal later this year.