A new science club founded by former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, aims to link girls who are passionate about science and technology with each other and with women already in science careers.

The goal of the Sally Ride Science Club, founded late last year in San Diego, is to keep elementary and middle-school girls from losing their interest in science, math, and technology at an age when statistics show they are most likely to do so. Designed as a forum where girls can discuss math and science, learn from professional women, and participate in science-centered activities, the club aims to inspire the next generation of female scientists and engineers.

“Our philosophy is to keep young girls interested, to introduce them to women role models and show them the range of opportunities open to them,” Ride said in a recent interview.

The club’s current roster of 1,000 members have access to a members-only web site (www.sallyrideclub.com), monthly newsletters, and eMail updates about upcoming science events for girls. Membership costs $30.

Eventually, Ride envisions the club spreading nationally through local chapters that meet after school.

The club is the centerpiece of Imaginary Lines Inc., a for-profit company Ride started last fall to host nationwide community science festivals for girls in grades six through eight, and to offer girls-only events with partners such as Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.

Studies show an overwhelming number get frustrated or turned off by math and science beginning in middle school, even if they have succeeded academically in the subjects. Some simply decide math and science aren’t cool.

The result is that while boys and girls do equally well in science and math in the fourth grade, boys pull ahead by the eighth grade, a trend that does not reverse.

“We believe that back in elementary school there are a lot of girls who are really interested in math and science who could very well go on to pursue careers in these fields,” Ride said. “But perhaps they might not get quite the same encouragement that a boy might. A girl might not get quite the same reaction from her friends, or the same encouragement from a teacher.”

Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983 as a communications officer aboard Challenger and completed a second journey the next year. Valentina Tereshkova of Russia became the first ever woman in space in 1963.