When drivers now enter the 101 Freeway in the West San Fernando Valley, they will be traveling on the Dr. Sally Ride Memorial Highway, named after the famed American astronaut.
Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) announced the designation between Balboa Boulevard and the 405 Freeway for the Encino native, who was the first American woman to go into space.
Ride is also the first known astronaut to be a member of the LGBTQ+ community, as she had a 27-year-long relationship with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy — a former professional tennis player and children’s science writer.
Ride passed away in 2012 following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old.
Her relationship with O’Shaughnessy didn’t become public knowledge until after her passing, when it was revealed in her obituary. Her sister, Rev. Bear Ride, said she was a “private person.” She said the times when they were growing up and in college were “very difficult times” due to the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community.
The unveiling was held at the beginning of Pride Month.
“We are just so excited to have this moment to recognize an incredible Encino native, an incredible [San Fernando] Valley girl,” Gabriel said during the designation ceremony at the Encino Little League baseball field.
“Sally was a transformational figure who captured America’s heart, inspired generations of young women and girls to follow their dreams and reach for the stars, and ultimately shattered the highest glass ceiling when she became the first American woman in space.”
Ride’s family members were also in attendance at the event. Bear spoke at the ceremony, recalling fond memories of her older sibling, such as her skills as a pitcher and her aspirations of playing for the Dodgers to zooming down the highway with their heads out the windows while listening to the radio.
“The joys of being a San Fernando [Valley] girl back then were immeasurable,” Bear said. “And that is, indeed, who Sally was.”
Ride was described as a woman of many talents. She was a gifted tennis player who earned a sports scholarship to attend the Westlake School for Girls when she was a high school sophomore. She later went on to graduate from Stanford University with four degrees, including a doctorate in physics.
In 1977, Ride applied to NASA to be an astronaut after seeing an article in the university’s student newspaper that said the agency was looking for new recruits. A year later, Ride was selected as a candidate along with 34 other individuals out of the 8,000 applicants; she was one of only six women who were chosen.
Ride was aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger as a mission specialist in 1983, becoming the first American woman in space. She was also the youngest American astronaut at the age of 32.
Bear recounted how Ride never said she wanted to be an astronaut when growing up. During the NASA space race in the 1960s, only fighter pilots were selected to be astronauts, and women were not allowed to be fighter pilots until 1993.
However, Bear said Ride loved astronomy, which proved to be a gateway for her to pursue her future career.
“Sally really didn’t say much about it [her training] until she was through all the testing and everything and she was accepted,” Bear said. “I found out after the fact and said, ‘Well of course.’”
Ride left NASA in 1987, becoming a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and the director of the California Space Institute two years later.
In 2001, she co-founded the Sally Ride Science company with the purpose of creating science programs for elementary and middle school students — particularly for girls — and promoting science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) literacy.
The company later became a nonprofit run by UCSD in 2015. O’Shaughnessy is currently the executive director.
Others at the ceremony honoring Ride included Morgan Appel, associate dean of Sally Ride Science at UCSD. He said she influenced many children and young adults and the company she co-founded has made great strides in promoting STEM literacy.
Appel said that to date, the nonprofit has impacted over 50,000 educators and 7 million students nationwide through workshops, children’s books and events like the annual Women in Leadership.
“She was an American who not only paved the way for others to follow but offered them perhaps a smoother and safer road to do so,” Appel said.
Assemblymember Laura Friedman (D-Glendale), the chairperson of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said only 50 of the state’s 700 highways, bridges and other transportation infrastructure named for people are named after women.
“What Sally Ride has done is open up those opportunities for girls, girls like me, who dreamed of something bigger, something beyond our planet,” Friedman said. “And for that, when I drive past this sign, I’ll always think of that.”
Although not there in person, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Director Laurie Leshin recorded a message to convey how much of an inspiration Ride was to her.
“Sally was an extraordinary person,” Leshin said. “She took the responsibility of being the first woman US astronaut incredibly seriously and used that position to help advance women and girls into STEM. So for all of her service to our nation, to women and girls everywhere, this is an honor that’s incredibly well deserved.”
The sign denoting the portion of the 101 Highway as the Dr. Sally Ride Memorial Highway was installed on June 4.
“We’re all very excited and can hardly wait for the first time that we drive down the 101 and see that sign,” Bear said. “I think all sorts of emotions are going to rise up.”