Too often, one’s contributions to the world don’t get their just honor until it’s too late. Sally Ride, the first female U.S. astronaut in space, was posthumously honored on Wednesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to civilians. She was one of 16 individual honorees from a wide range of backgrounds, but she was the only one that went to space, so we’re pretty sure she had some of the best stories in the bunch whenever she was still around to tell them. Ride was 61 years old when she passed away last July due to pancreatic cancer, and she got a lot done during those years to help her earn this award, which has been given to over 500 people in the 50 years since President John F. Kennedy brought them into being.
Ride’s partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, was on hand to accept the award on Ride’s behalf, and mother Joyce and sister Karen also attended the ceremony. “I think she belongs there, and I only wish that she had received the honor when she was still alive,” O’Shaughnessy told USA Today, saying that the astronaut was always more interested in getting things done rather than being applauded for her efforts. “But you know what? This is such a big honor. I think she would be quietly very pleased. You’d probably see this little grin on her face, that she thought it was a big deal, too.”
Another of Ride’s greatest accomplishments was starting up Sally Ride Science, a company whose goal is pushing kids, particularly females, into the path of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields. This program, according to Ride’s former shuttle commander, is “probably a bigger legacy than her being the first woman from the U.S. to go in space.” She was also honored earlier this year with a national tribute.
Other non-NASA honorees of the night included Chicago Cub great Ernie Banks, country music legend Loretta Lynn, jazz legend Auturo Sandoval, basketball coach Dean Smith, and Oprah Winfrey. For the political side, we have former president Bill Clinton, former Chief Judge Patricia Wald, and former Senator and anti-nuker Richard Lugar. Then there’s Nobel Prize-winning chemist Mario Molina, newsman Ben Bradlee, ultra-woman Gloria Steinem, and civil rights supporter and minister C.T. Vivian. Other posthumous winners were Japanese veteran and Congressman Daniel Inouye and civil rights activist Bayard Rustinand, an adviser to Martin Luther King Jr. Take a look at all the living recipients below, courtesy of the White House Blog.