the first American woman in space

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the first American woman in space

When it comes to pioneers in space exploration, the conversation has to include Sally Ride.

The physicist and native of Southern California was the first American woman in space and only the third woman in space.

what you should Know

  • Sally Ride is the first American woman in space
  • She participated in two space shuttle missions
  • After NASA, she became a physics professor

After attending Stanford University and earning four degrees, including a doctorate in physics, Sally Ride joined NASA and flew two space shuttle Challenger missions, once in June 1983 and again in October 1984.

Early life

Sally Ride was born in 1951 in California and grew up in Los Angeles. Growing up, she was a top-ranked tennis player in the state of California and eventually played college tennis at Stanford University.

She earned four degrees while studying at Stanford: BA in Physics, BA in English Literature, MA in Physics, and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Physics.

During her graduate studies at Stanford in 1977, she saw an announcement on the front page of The Stanford Daily, the school newspaper, that NASA was looking for young scientists and a new group of astronauts for the space shuttle program.

After applying along with 8,079 others, she became one of 208 finalists and eventually became one of six women selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1978 after physical fitness tests, a psychiatric evaluation and personal interviews.


Ride completed NASA training in 1979, officially becoming an astronaut, making her qualified and eligible for assignment to space shuttle missions.

After five years at NASA, officials eventually selected her for spaceflight as a mission specialist for STS-7 in 1983. It was NASA’s seventh space shuttle mission and the second mission for the space shuttle Challenger.

The space shuttle Challenger launched on STS-7 from the Kennedy Space Center on June 18, 1983 (NASA)

STS-7 was a pioneering mission not only for Sally Ride, but also for women in spaceflight. This marked the first time an American woman went into space and made her the third woman to go into space after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.

Ride’s second and final space shuttle mission was as mission specialist on STS-41-G in October 1984. It was the sixth flight of the space shuttle Challenger and the first crew to include two women.

Sally Ride in the cockpit of the space shuttle Challenger during mission STS-41-G in 1984.

Sally Ride in the cockpit of the space shuttle Challenger during mission STS-41-G in 1984 (NASA)

NASA planned it for the third mission of the space shuttle Challenger, STS-61-M, to be flown in July 1986. NASA canceled this mission after the disaster of the space shuttle Challenger in January 1986, which eventually stopped all missions on the space shuttle for more than two years.

After completing her two space shuttle missions, she spent the remainder of her time at NASA serving on the Rogers Commission investigating the Challenger disaster in 1986. She also worked at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., helping to lead of NASA’s long-range and strategic planning efforts.

Ride announced he was leaving NASA in 1987, after nine years of service, logging more than 343 hours in space.

After NASA

In 1989, Sally Reid’s career took her to the University of California, San Diego, where she became a professor of physics until her retirement in 2007. She also acted as director of the California Space Institute, a research institute at the University of California, from 1989 to 1996. Mr.

Along with her work at the University of California, she and her partner wrote six children’s books about her time as an astronaut and space exploration.

Sally Ride hosted the 2007 Sally Ride Science Festival at NASA’s Ames Research Center. (NASA)

In an effort to help women and girls who want to study science and math, she founded “Sally Ride Science” in 2001, a non-profit organization run by UCSD to inspire young people and promote STEM (science , technology, engineering and mathematics) literacy.

In her own words in an interview with NASA, “I wanted to start a company that would create good science programs and materials that would capture girls’ imaginations, show boys and girls different role models and encourage them to continue to strive their interests as they grow up.”

Her legacy

Sally Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. After her death in 2013, President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the US’s highest civilian honor.

Sally Ride was also inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Aviation Hall of Fame, along with numerous other awards and honors to her name.

Sally Ride on Forever stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 2018.

Sally Ride on Forever stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in 2018 (USPS via AP)

A collection of her belongings is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, including her flight suit from STS-7, her tennis racket from her youth, and much more.

To this day, her company hosts workshops and grants scholarships that help educate and inspire the children she paved the way for by becoming the first American woman in space.

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