First Woman Astronaut
Image Courtesy NASA
Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space when she flew aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver described “Sally [as] a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world. Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere.”
Ride was born in Los Angeles, California in 1951. Her father inspired her. He was a community college teacher in a middle class community who especially valued education. Ride recalled that he wanted to emphasize to his daughters the “importance of education to get ahead in the world.” After high school, Ride attended Stanford University where she received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in physics. Physics is the study of energy and matter and how they interact with each other.
In 1977, Ride applied to become a NASA astronaut. It was the first time that women were invited to join NASA’s astronaut corps. Ride was only 1 out of 35 people (along with 5 other women) who were selected out of 8,000 applications.
Ride became the first American woman to fly in space when she served as a mission specialist in 1983 during her space flight aboard Challenger. During this mission, Ride worked the robotic arm to help release satellites into space. In 1984, Ride flew in space again on another NASA shuttle mission.
Ride said that what she liked best about being in space was being weightless! She exclaimed that “[t]here’s really nothing like it on Earth. When we first reached orbit, I did what lots of astronauts do: while I was strapped in my seat, I held my pencil in front of my face and let go of it. It floated! Once I got used to weightlessness, I could do 30 somersaults in a row and slither like a seal from one side of the cabin to the other with a gentle push. And of course, we couldn’t resist playing a little bit with our food - floating a blob of orange juice in the middle of the room, and sending peanuts drifting into each others’ mouths from across the room.”
Ride was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame honors astronauts for their accomplishments in spaceflight. Ride was also twice awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal.
In 2001, Ride founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her passion to motivate girls and young women to pursue careers in science, technology and math. Ride said that she wanted to “create good science programs and materials that would capture girls’ imaginations, show both boys and girls a variety of role models (in everything from astrobiology to environmental engineering to rocket science) and encourage them to continue to pursue their interests as they grow older.”
Ride pioneered the Moon Knowledge Acquired by Middle School students (MoonKAM) project, which allowed students across the nation to target images of the moon with the use of two spacecraft. Through MoonKAM, middle school students could take charge of a camera aboard a NASA spacecraft and direct it to take pictures of the moon’s surface. These students received these pictures about 240,000 miles away. More importantly, they received valuable knowledge of the moon, space and an appreciation for our universe.
Ride encouraged students to “[k]eep interested in science and do well in … math and science classes.” Ride explained that “[s]cience and math education is critical to our country’s future.”
Video Courtesy NASA
“Sally Ride - First American Woman in Space” (2018) NASA
“Sally Ride (1951-2012) Astronaut” - NASA Science, Solar System Exploration
“Biographical Data Sheet - Sally K. Ride” (2002) NASA Johnson Space Center Oral History Project
“Who was Sally Ride?” (2014) NASA