AKRON, Ohio (AP) _ Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is following in the footsteps of Amelia Earhart.

Ride will christen the Spirit of Goodyear airship on March 15 and climb aboard for the first official ride. The airship replaces the Spirit of Akron, which crashed in October.

In 1929, Earhart, an aviation pioneer, helped launch the Goodyear airship Defender in Cleveland.

``We're really happy that Sally Ride has accepted our invitation,'' Goodyear spokesman Mickey Wittman said. ``We wanted someone in aviation, a woman and a hero _ someone like Amelia Earhart.''

Ride, 49, first went into space in 1983 on a six-day shuttle mission with four NASA crew mates. She is now a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego.