East Texans remember Sally Ride as an American pioneer

HEMPHILL, TX (KTRE) - One woman changed the face of space in a world, that was at the time known only to men. Following her death on Monday, East Texans remember a national hero who broke barriers for females in the generations to come.

The first American woman in space is also being remembered for helping East Texas through one of its darkest hours, the Shuttle Columbia disaster.

It was in 1983 and launch of the space shuttle Challenger that would secure Sally Ride's place as an American pioneer. At 32, she became the first American woman in space.

"It meant a lot to me to have the opportunity to go into space. And, it meant a lot to me to be the first woman that was chosen," said Sally Ride in an interview, following the Challenger mission.

Ride also held an important role in East Texas history. Marsha Cooper says she worked alongside Ride when the shuttle Columbia broke up over the Pineywoods in 2003.

"It was just an honor to meet her, knowing that she was one of the first women to fly in space and to train and experience it in the years that she worked up to that point to be able to fly," said Marsha Cooper, media spokeswoman for the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Remembering Columbia Museum.

Ride is the only person to investigate both shuttle accidents. She spent weeks in Hemphill, motivating and working with search crews to recover Columbia debris.

"She was with the commission investigating team, and she served on the Challenger and the Columbia investigating team," said Cooper.

Cooper now works for the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Remembering Columbia Museum. She's sharing Ride's story, as a woman who was always eager to learn, inspire youth, and defy the odds.

"She touched a lot of lives during that time and her presence being here," said Cooper.

"She meant so much, so much to NASA," said museum visitor, Daniel Stelly.

Monday, the 61-year-old lost a battle with pancreatic cancer at her home in San Diego. However, Cooper is working to make sure her legacy will live on forever. Cooper says in the future, the Columbia museum anticipates expanding to hold more exhibits highlighting a larger variety of astronauts and their legacies, including Sally Ride.

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