Who was Sally Ride?

Sally Kristen Ride was an American astronaut and physicist. Born in Encino, Los Angeles (California) on May 26, 1951, she joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in outer space in 1983. Her father was a professor of political science and her mother was a counselor. While neither had a background in the physical sciences, she credited them with fostering her deep interest in science by encouraging her to explore.

Sally Ride, the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to outer space, having done so at the age of thirty-two, was the third woman in outer space overall, after U.S.S.R. cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). After flying twice on the American Space Shuttle Challenger, she left NASA in 1987; she then served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Sally Ride died on July 23, 2012 at the age of sixty-one, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Sally Ride studied at Stanford University before beating out one thousand other applicants for a spot in NASA’s astronaut program. After a brief foray into professional tennis, she was selected to be an astronaut as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8 (the first selection in nine years of astronaut candidates since Group 7 in August 1969, and also included NASA’s first female astronauts), in 1978, the first class to select women.

After graduating training in 1979, becoming eligible to work as a mission specialist, she served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second (STS-2) and third (STS-3) American Space Shuttle flights, and helped develop the Space Shuttle’s “Canadarm” robot arm. She went through the program’s rigorous training program and got her chance to go into space and the record books in 1983.

This is the hero factory. In this network of squat gray bunkers set apart from downtown Houston by a freeway, a side road and two speed traps, the likes of Alan Shepard, Gus Grissom, John Glenn and Neil Armstrong were introduced to the world and transformed from men into legends. Today’s reusable space shuttle may be less exotic than the old space capsules; still, as NASA demonstrated on one steamy Texas afternoon a few weeks ago, it can still make an astronaut into a household name. Case in point: Sally Kristen Ride, mission specialist on this week’s scheduled flight of the shuttle Challenger and the first American woman in space”.


On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride, aged thirty-two, became the first American woman in outer space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7, which launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Many of the people attending the launch wore T-shirts bearing the words “Ride, Sally Ride”, lyrics from Wilson Pickett’s song “Mustang Sally”. She was accompanied by Captain Robert L. Crippen (spacecraft commander), Captain Frederick H. Hauck (pilot), and fellow Mission Specialists, Colonel John M. Fabian and Dr. Norman E. Thagard. This was the second flight for the orbiter Challenger and the first mission with a five-person crew.

During the mission, NASA’s seventh shuttle mission, the STS-7 crew deployed satellites for Canada (ANIK C-2) and Indonesia (PALAPA B-1); operated the Canadian-built Remote Manipulator System (RMS) to perform the first deployment and retrieval exercise with the Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-01); conducted the first formation flying of the orbiter with a free-flying satellite (SPAS-01); carried and operated the first U.S./German cooperative materials science payload (OSTA-2) and operated the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) and the Monodisperse Latex Reactor (MLR) experiments, in addition to activating seven Getaway Specials. Mission duration was one hundred and forty-seven hours before landing on a lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on June 24, 1983.

Sally Ride’s history-making Challenger mission was not her only spaceflight. She also became the first American woman to travel to outer space a second time when she launched on another Challenger mission, STS-41-G, on October 5, 1984.


Dr. Ride served as a Mission Specialist on STS 41-G, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on October 5, 1984. This was the largest crew to fly to date and included Captain Robert L. Crippen (spacecraft commander), Captain Jon A. McBride (pilot), fellow Mission Specialists, Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan and Commander David C. Leestma, as well as two payloads specialists, Commander Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power.

Their eight-day mission deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, conducted scientific observations of the Earth with the OSTS-3 pallet and Large Format Camera and as demonstrated potential satellite refueling with a spacewalk and associated hydrazine transfer. Mission duration was one hundred and ninety-seven hours and concluded with a landing at Kennedy Space Center on October 13, 1984.

After NASA, Dr. Sally Ride

From 1982 to 1987, Sally Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley. They had no children. In June 1985, Dr. Sally Ride was assigned to the crew of STS 61-M. Mission training was terminated in January 1986 following the space shuttle Challenger accident. Dr. Sally Ride served as a member of the Presidential Commission investigating the accident (the Rogers Commission). Upon completion of the investigation, she was assigned to NASA Headquarters as Special Assistant to the Administrator for long-range and strategic planning.

In 2009, Sally Ride participated in the Augustine committee that helped define NASA’s spaceflight goals. Dr. Ride received numerous honors and awards. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame and has received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award. She has also twice been awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal.

On July 23, 2012, Sally Ride died at the age of sixty-one, following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She will always be remembered as a pioneering astronaut who went where no other American woman had gone before. “As the first American woman in space, Sally did not just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, she blasted through it”, President Barack Obama said. “And when she came back to Earth, she devoted her life to helping girls excel in fields like math, science and engineering”.