Woman in space capsule (© Bettmann/Getty Images)
Sally Ride, America's first woman astronaut in space, communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during a Challenger mission on June 21, 1983. (© Bettmann/Getty Images)

In the more than three decades since she orbited Earth as the first American woman in space, the late Sally Ride continues to inspire people, including those born well after her groundbreaking exploits.

Take Kristine Khieu. The 21-year-old says Ride is the reason she’s studying bioengineering at the University of California, San Diego, where Ride taught physics after retiring from NASA in 1987. Khieu serves as a liaison between the university and Sally Ride Science at University of California, San Diego, an education nonprofit that Ride co-founded in 2001 to encourage children to consider careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“I’m incredibly proud to be part of Sally Ride’s legacy,” Khieu said. “It’s something I always dreamed about as a kid.”

Postage stamp showing Sally Ride and space shuttle launch (U.S. Postal Service)
Stamp honoring astronaut Sally Ride (U.S. Postal Service)

The U.S. Postal Service is dedicating a stamp at the university on May 23 to honor Ride and her achievements, almost six years after the space icon died of pancreatic cancer. (Fittingly, Ride also happened to be an avid stamp collector.)

Tennis great Billie Jean King, who was friends with Ride, and astronaut Ellen Ochoa, who followed in Ride’s footsteps on the space shuttle, will take part in the ceremony. Later that evening, King, Ochoa and Condoleezza Rice, the 66th U.S. secretary of state, will participate in a discussion on women in leadership.

Ride became an astronaut in 1978 as part of the first class of candidates to include women. In 1983, she joined the space shuttle Challenger crew as a mission specialist. She completed her final mission on the Challenger a year later.

Ride showed the world that women are equal to their male counterparts. As of July 2017, NASA says, 56 women have followed Ride into space.

In 2013, Ride was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. Tam O’Shaughnessy, executive director of Sally Ride Science and Ride’s life partner, accepted the honor on her behalf.

Ride’s legacy at her namesake company continues to grow. For example, a summer junior academy for girls that introduces them to ocean robotics and dissection is expanding to include more than 1,000 girls, up from 500 in 2017, O’Shaughnessy said.

“Starting the company and trying to change, even a little bit, the culture of science … that was a huge commitment she made and we’re really proud of what we did,” O’Shaughnessy said.

This article was written by freelance writer Lenore T. Adkins.