Another one of America's pioneering heroes has fallen victim to pancreatic cancer. Just last fall, it was digital pioneer Steve Jobs. On Monday, it was America's first female in space, astronaut Sally Ride.
Ironically, news of Ride's death in La Jolla on Monday reached us the day before what would have been the 115th birthday of another American aviation pioneer, Amelia Earhart.
Earhart, of course, was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, which earned her the prestigious U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross. She famously disappeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1937 in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe.
Ride was no less of a trailblazer than Earhart. She became the first of -- so far
Yes, the same shuttle that met a tragic end three years later, blowing up off the coast of Florida a few minutes after takeoff.
Ride was on the commission that investigated that horrible accident as well as the commission that investigated the 2003 Columbia disintegration. She is the only person to serve on both panels.
Ride held a doctorate from Stanford University and was a professor of physics at UC San Diego.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said Ride "broke barriers with grace and professionalism -- and literally changed the face of America's space program."
And that she did.
She made public appearances not for self-aggrandizement but to promote NASA and science education. Ride chose to be what she was at heart -- a science geek, an explorer and a teacher.
As Earhart had done before her, Ride's accomplishments helped encourage a generation of young girls that science was a marvelous tool to help them reach new heights. In both cases, our nation was better for it.
Ride wrote five science books for children and was president of her own company, Sally Ride Science.
It was through that company that Ride left a lasting legacy for America's middle school children. Sally Ride Science was the driving force behind mounting cameras on NASA's twin Grail spacecraft, which, among other things, allows middle school students to take their very own pictures of the moon. We find that to be pretty darn cool.
In her two flights aboard Challenger in 1983 and 1984, Ride logged a total of 343 hours in space. But in all of that time with her head spent above the clouds, it seems to us that she always kept her feet planted firmly on the ground.
Ride's friends and family should know that a grateful nation will miss her calm and quiet leadership.
Godspeed, Sally Ride.
Go to www.contracostatimes.com/opinion and click on this editorial
for a photo gallery and video tribute to Sally Ride.