WASHINGTON, May 20 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Monday said he will award a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom to Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space.
"We remember Sally Ride not just as a national hero, but as a role model to generations of young women," Obama said in a statement released by the White House. "Sally inspired us to reach for the stars, and she advocated for a greater focus on the science, technology, engineering and math that would help us get there. Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy."
Ride first traveled on the space shuttle in 1983. She left NASA in 1987 to focus on science education, especially for girls. She died July 23, 2012, of pancreatic cancer at age 61.
The Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors. More honorees will be announced in the coming weeks, and the awards will be presented at a ceremony at the White House later this year.
Also on Monday, NASA announced it would pay tribute to Ride by creating a new agency internship program in her name and renaming a science instrument aboard the International Space Station in her honor.
The Sally Ride Internship will help students from underserved backgrounds pursue a research interest at one of NASA's centers nationwide, a release from the agency said, providing as many as 10 internships in the spring and fall semesters of each school year.
NASA said it would also honor Ride by renaming a camera aboard the space station the Sally Ride EarthKAM.
Through her company, Sally Ride Science, hundreds of thousands of middle school students have participated in space research by using EarthKAM by requesting images based on their classroom investigations.
"Sally's impact on our nation and future generations of explorers is immeasurable," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, who served with Ride in NASA's astronaut corps in the 1980s. "God speed, Sally Ride, and thank you for reminding us to reach higher, break barriers and dream big."