Hundreds of educators packed Ballroom D of the Convention Center in Austin, Texas, for Sally Ride’s keynote address to the TCEA’s annual conference. The first American woman in space, and a Challenger crew member on two flights, Dr. Ride began by talking about her background and work in space science.

Raised by parents who were not scientifically minded, she said they nevertheless encouraged her interest in mathematics and science. She also credited teachers for having urged her to be the best that she could be. Similarly, she said, today’s educators should “encourage both boys and girls to reach for the stars.”

Ride joined NASA after answering a newspaper ad for the first corps of astronauts. In a flight aboard the Challenger shuttle that is now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Ride became the first woman to orbit Earth.

In her TCEA address, during which she showed several slides of views from space, Ride spoke of her feelings on seeing Earth from space. She stressed the importance of science and technology in education, and encouraged educators to expect both boys and girls to continue to pursue science.

That was one of the reasons she started Sally Ride Science, described as “a science content company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology.” The company provides students with both print and online learning materials to help them experience science as real. It also hosts science festivals in the summer.

At TCEA, Ride expressed amazement that girls appear to lose interest in math and science from the time they attend middle school. She attributed that to societal expectations that are different for boys and girls, and she said those expectations needed to change. Girls should see role models of scientists who are like themselves, she added.

Ride pointed to climate change as the main challenge facing the next generation of scientists.