Today in science: Sally Ride in space
June 18, 1983. On this date, physicist Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). Ride was an astronaut aboard space shuttle mission STS-7, NASA’s seventh space shuttle mission and the second mission for the shuttle Challenger.
The mission lasted 147 hours. Ride’s job was to work a robotic arm, used to help put satellites into Earth orbit. She flew on the space shuttle again (mission STS-41G) in 1984.
Ride was scheduled to board the shuttle again, on proposed shuttle mission STS-61M, which was canceled due to the 1986 Challenger disaster. Ride later helped investigate the Challenger accident, as a member of the Rogers Commission. According to a 2016 article in Popular Mechanics, it was Sally Ride who revealed to General Donald Kutyna – another member of the Rogers Commission – that the O-rings used in the shuttle become stiff at low temperatures, a fact that eventually led to identification of the cause of the explosion.
Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 26, 1951. As a teenager, she loved sports such as running, volleyball, softball and, especially, tennis. After receiving undergraduate degrees in physics and in English from Stanford University in 1973, she obtained her Ph.D. in physics.
While Ride was studying physics, in 1977, NASA was looking for women astronauts. Ride saw an ad in the school newspaper inviting women to apply to the astronaut program and decided to apply for the job. She was one of six women chosen as an astronaut candidate in 1978.
The following year, she began training as a Mission Specialist for future space flights.
In 1989 – when her career with NASA ended – Ride began teaching physics at the University of California, in Los Angeles. In 2001, she began inspiring other young women to pursue STEM careers through Sally Ride Science, a company she co-founded with her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Her company targeted middle school students and their parents. With O’Shaughnessy, Ride wrote five science books for children and undertook many other projects to motivate young people toward the sciences.
Sally Ride died on July 23, 2012, after suffering pancreatic cancer.
Sally Ride Science, her legacy, is still directed by Tam O’Shaughnessy.
Bottom line: Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983.