On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American Woman in space. To this day, she is still the youngest American in history to have traveled to outer space. She remains a hero to countless young girls who dream of having careers in science and space. She was also recently honored by the United States Postal Service with her own Forever Stamp.
Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles, CA. In addition to being interested in science at a young age, she was also a nationally ranked tennis player. Her playing partner, Billie Jean King, encouraged Ride to pursue a professional tennis career. However, Ride loved science and Shakespeare more than tennis. In 1973, she graduated from Stanford University in with two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in physics and a Bachelor of Arts in English. She stayed at Stanford to earn a Master of Science in 1975 and a Doctorate in Physics in 1978.
While finishing up her Ph.D. at Stanford, she applied for a position at NASA. She beat out 8,370 other applicants and joined the astronaut corps in 1978. She was one of the first female astronauts handpicked by NASA. Ride immediately began her spaceflight training. When asked what was like to train with men, she said, “Weightlessness is the great equalizer.”
When the space shuttle Challenger lifted off on June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space. On her first flight, with four male astronauts, she served as a mission specialist. She became the first woman to operate the shuttle’s robotic arm.
Ride returned to earth on June 24, 1983. She encouraged NASA to make some female-friendly adjustments to the shuttle, including a curtain for the restroom area and adjustable seats. She returned to outer space one more time in 1984 with her friend Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to walk in space.
After leaving NASA in 1987, she made it her mission to share her enthusiasm for science with children, especially young girls. She helped found the Challenger Center for Space Science Education. She also became a professor of physics and the director of the California Space Institute at U.C. San Diego. In 2001, she launched Sally Ride Science, an educational company. Ride also wrote six science books for children, co-writing them with her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.
Ride passed away on July 23, 2012, from pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old. When asked about her legacy as a role model, she once shared, “I think it’s important for little girls growing up, and young women, to have one in every walk of life. So from that point of view, I’m proud to be a role model!” Thanks to Sally Ride, more women than ever before are pursuing careers in STEM.