In Memory: Sally Kristen Ride (1951-2012)

Dr. Sally Ride — astronaut, scientist, and teacher — was one of my heroes, as she was for many women of my age/generation. Dr. Ride died yesterday, at 61 years of age, of pancreatic cancer. I posted the following on SFFNet, an online community of science fiction and fantasy writers and fans that includes NASA employees and other scientists. As varied a community as SFFNet is, we’re all space flight nuts — I think that it’s required for admission.

If you want to join us in memorializing Dr. Ride’s life, feel free to do so. Instructions are below, and all are welcome. :-)

On the memorial thread for astronaut Sally Ride on SFFNet (, I suggested that the SFFNet community make a donation for research into a cure for pancreatic cancer in her memory. Another SFFNet member suggested that I summarize in a separate thread to make my case. At a different member’s suggestion, I am posting this edited version so that it can be reposted outside of SFFNet and others who admired Dr. Ride could participate. This version can be posted anywhere you like.

Dr. Sally Ride did a great deal in her sadly shortened life. She received her BA, MA, and Ph.D. in Physics from Stanford University in the 1970s. Everyone knows of her work as an astronaut — the first woman in that role at NASA. Most people probably do not remember that, before the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, she publicly spoke up in support for then-Morton Thiokol engineer Roger Boisjoly. Boisjoly was the lone voice who warned about problems in the Space Shuttle program before the Challenger disaster. As a result, he was (not surprisingly) shunned by Morton Thiokol and NASA alike, except for Sally Ride. Memory of her willingness to support people who spoke inconvenient truths probably led to her service (as opposed to that of another astronaut) on the Space Shuttle Columbia Investigation board almost two decades later.

After her retirement from NASA in 1987, she became a Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego and Director of the California Space Institute. Less known was that she also joined the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control, where she contributed significantly to the exacting technical background work necessary to provide verification for arms treaties.

As if this woman had not done enough, in the early 2000s — having become concerned that the U.S. was not teaching children enough about science and math to generate the next generation of… well… Sally Rides — she founded “Sally Ride Science”. This organization provided curriculum in many formats for elementary through high school students focusing on space and the sciences needed to study space, build the next generation of space travel technologies, etc. Ride herself, in addition to writing many scientific and technical papers, wrote five children’s books that focused on science and space.

Obviously pancreatic cancer research does not cover Dr. Ride’s range or her life. A donation to NASA in Dr. Ride’s memory would be appropriate. So would a donation to any number of organizations that encourage people to study and work in space-related scientific and technological fields. But pancreatic cancer is what took her from her family, her friends, and us, as it does entirely too many people who are in no way finished with life and still have a great deal to contribute to the human race.

Pancreatic cancer remains stubbornly incurable and largely untreatable: currently it has a one-year survival rate of around 20% and a cure rate of under 5%. When I think about the relatives and friends that I have lost to cancer, more than half were to this one type. The actual numbers aren’t quite that lopsided, but they’re bad:

Type	                     New Cases/Year   Deaths/Year
Bladder	                       73,510          14,880
Breast	                      229,060          39,920
Colon/Rectal                  143,460          51,690
Endometrial (Skin)             47,130           8,010
Kidney                         59,588          12,484
Leukemia                       47,150          23,540
Lung                          226,160         160,340
Melanoma                       76,250           9,180
Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma         70,130          18,940
Pancreatic                     43,920          37,390
Prostate                      241,740          28,170
Thyroid                        56,460           1,780

Pancreatic cancer is well down the list of numbers of new cases per year — lowest of all “common” cancers. It’s a lot higher in the number of deaths per year, however — exceeded only by lung, colorectal, and breast cancer. Worst, when you look at the ratio of new cases to deaths in a year (a rough but on the whole fairly effective measure of survivability), it’s at the very top. Of all of the most common cancers, it is far and away the most likely to kill you if you get it.

The scientific and medical community has made some progress against pancreatic cancer. The stubborn problem of failure to detect pancreatic cancer til it has spread far beyond the pancreas has a great deal to do with why it kills such a large proportion of those who get it. The cure rate for those pancreatic cancer sufferers whose cancer is detected early is *much* better than the overall cure rate. Researchers are working on tools to improve early detection.

However, as best I can make it out, there is also something basic about pancreatic cancer itself that lends it a peculiar resistance to common and otherwise often-successful cancer treatment methods. New treatments are desperately needed. Researchers are also working on those.

As science fiction and fantasy fans tend to know, either from personal experience or by listening to researchers grumble at cons and in online communities, research costs a LOT of money. Researchers need living expenses so that they can devote their time to research. They also need laboratories, equipment, supplies, and money to pay for professional journals and data, conferences, and other expenses of continuing education. None of these things are optional if they are to do their work properly.

The “big three” cancers get the lions share of available research money, for obvious reasons. I don’t object to them getting funding, but — probably due to the relatively smaller number of new cases per year — pancreatic cancer research is on short rations. While I don’t think that SFFNet alone can fix that, we can do our small part. I can’t think of a better reason than in memory of Dr. Ride.

After doing some research yesterday, I found an organization that I believe is probably the best place to send our donations: the LustGarten Foundation. I had heard only vaguely of it before, but Charity Navigator (an excellent charity watchdog and rating organization) rates the LustGarten Foundation among the highest of all charities that it tracks. Here are URLs:

Home Page:
Donations Page:
Charity Navigator Report:

Rather than set up some complicated collection point, I propose that those who want to participate in the SFFNet donation in Dr. Ride’s memory simply send the Lustgarten Foundation a check or (if you prefer to donate by credit card) use the organization’s Donations Page (URL above). I phoned them up and they know that people will be sending donations from the “SFFNet community”. I daresay that donations from others in memory of Dr. Ride would be equally welcome.


Make out the check to “The Lustgarten Foundation”. On the Memo line, write this:

SFFNet: In Memory of Sally Ride

Send the check here:

The Lustgarten Foundation
1111 Stewart Avenue
Bethpage, NY 11714

If you have further questions, you can call them at either of these numbers:

U.S. Toll Free: 1-866-789-1000
International: +1.516-803-2304


First, go to this URL:

In the Donation Information section, choose the amount that you can give. While we’d all obviously like to be able to give $10,000 dollars, nobody expects that — if you can donate only $5.00, please do so. This isn’t about how much money you can give. Unfortunately the form *insists* upon a Title and (worse) an email address that they do not need. I gave them my address; I hope that they do not abuse it. <sigh>

Second, to ensure that your donation gets “counted” as one of the SFFNet group, in the Additional Information section below the Donation Information, in the Comments field, type this:

SFFNet Community: Donation in Memory of Dr. Sally Ride

Third, fill in the Billing Information and the Payment Information sections, ensuring that the billing information that you provide matches that on the credit card that you are using. The organization can take payment by all four major credit cards in the U.S. (Visa, Mastercard, Discover, American Express)

Finally, at the bottom of the page is a section titled “Tribute Information”. In the Type drop-down list, choose “in memory of”, and in the Name text box, type “Dr. Sally Ride (1951-2012)”.

That’s all there is to it. I donated on the web form and everything works.

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