In June 1983, shortly before Sally Ride became America's first female astronaut, Late Night host Johnny Carson quipped that the space shuttle might be delayed because the physicist and jet pilot had to find a purse to match her shoes.
At the time, scrutiny surrounding Dr. Ride's gender was commonplace. In a press conference weeks before her first launch, according to her New York Times obituary, she faced questions such as "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?"
Today, 59 women have flown into space, 45 of them American, according to NASA.
On Tuesday, Google honored Ride, who died in 2012, on what would have been her birthday, with five different Doodles (refresh Google’s homepage to see the different drawings.) Google collaborated with Ride’s life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, to create the whimsical animations.
"As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride – who would have been 64 today – captured the nation’s imagination as a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers," Dr. O'Shaughnessy wrote in a guest post on Google's blog.
"But her historic flight represented just one aspect of a remarkable and multifaceted life. She was also a physicist, a science writer, and an inspirational advocate for keeping kids excited about science as they go through school."
Ride held master’s and PhD degrees in physics from Stanford University; taught as a professor at the University of California, San Diego; played as a nationally ranked tennis player at Stanford; and was determined to inspire kids to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Normally reticent about her personal life, Ride threw her star power behind education. In her blog post, O'Shaughnessy quotes Ride:
"Everywhere I go I meet girls and boys who want to be astronauts and explore space, or they love the ocean and want to be oceanographers, or they love animals and want to be zoologists, or they love designing things and want to be engineers. I want to see those same stars in their eyes in 10 years and know they are on their way!"
Ride and O’Shaughnessy founded Sally Ride Science, an organization dedicated to creating “programs and publications that bring science to life and show young people that STEM is fascinating, creative, and fun,” wrote O’Shaughnessy.
According to a 2010 report published by the American Association of University Women, women are gaining traction in STEM education and careers, but still lag behind men. In 1970, just 1.7 percent of the employed professional engineers were women; by 2000, this number had increased to more than 10 percent. Other science fields, including computer science, physics, astronomy, chemistry, math, and the biological sciences show similar progressive trends for women in the workplace,
"Women’s educational progress should be celebrated, yet more work is needed to ensure that women and girls have full access to educational and employment opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," note the report's authors.
Ride “inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools,” said President Obama in 2012. “Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve.”