Sally’s Ride to Space: The First American Woman To Be in Space, Sally K. Ride

What could you be doing at 32? Some people, at this age, had already become startup CEOs; others have become insurance company owners, while others have gone to space. So, if you feel pressured, do not be. You are not in a race other than with yourself. Sally K. Ride, however, was in a literal race back in the day, the Space Race, so she had to train doubly hard and reach her goals of becoming the first American woman in space.

Who is Sally Ride?

Born in Los Angeles, California, in 1951, Ride did not see herself going into space at 32. However, she did have her eyes set on becoming a scientist, so she obtained a degree in physics from the University of California, Los Angeles, and Stanford University. The future astronaut also took a break from studying to pursue her professional tennis career. After obtaining her bachelor’s, she went on to take a master’s course and studied X-rays in the interstellar medium. This area of study proved to be critical towards her becoming an astronaut.

Women in Space

Ride was not the first woman in space. Two other Russian cosmonauts precede her. Interestingly, this did not seem to bother the US more than the fact that Yuri Gagarin beat them to be the first man in space. Needless to say, being an astronaut was very much a man’s job at that time. So, when NASA finally realized they needed to send a woman to space, Ride was perfectly positioned to be selected, considering her early investments and training.

NASA selected women for its Astronaut Group 8 in 1978, and Ride was one of them. After she graduated training in 1979, Ride became competed to be a mission specialist. She was tapped to be the ground capsule communicator for the second and third Space Shuttle flights. Little did she know that she would soon be part of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew.

STS – 7

NASA then announced that Ride would be the mission specialist for STS-7, where their primary goal was to deploy two satellites, the first Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-1), and with a great degree of care, conduct experiment within the cargo bay and test the TDRS satellite. Before the crew composed of Commander Robert L. Crippen, Pilot Frederick H. “Rick” Hauck, Mission Specialist John M. Fabian, and Norman E. Thaggard was the media’s focus because of Ride’s gender. Everyone thought it was liberating, and many wore shirts with the words “Ride, Sally, Ride!”

NASA’s STS-7 was almost 20 years too late after Russia sent its first woman into space. The date, June 18, 1983, was remembered in history for launching a woman into space and being among the most complex shuttle program to date. Of course, the US could have sent one earlier, but because they favored male pilots and engineers over equally capable women, this record came in 20 years too late. It was a good improvement in policy that they started making investments in training more women.

Post Mission

There are no indications that Ride and Tereshkova ever met, but these two will always be a star in history. They will be remembered for proving that women could be as good as, even better than men in space.

In 1987, Ride left her position at NASA to work at Stanford University. Two years later, she became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. The former astronaut was also given credit for leading two public outreach programs at NASA, the GRAIL MoonKAM and the ISS EarthKAM projects, which allowed high school students to request photos of the moon and the Earth.

Ride also wrote and co-wrote seven books on space, targeting children as their audience. To a degree, she wanted everyone to really understand how it is in space and space travel and technology potentials.

There is not much known about Ride’s personal life, but when she passed on July 23, 2012, some details of her marriage surfaced, such as having Tam O’Shaughnessy, who was a professor emerita and a childhood friend, as her partner for 27 years. They both liked tennis. Now that she has the stars, we can proudly tell Sally Ride, “mission accomplished”.

Photo Sources:

Cover Photo – NASA
Photo 1 – YouTube 0:36
Photo 2 – NASA
Photo 3 – NASA
Photo 4 – YouTube 2:34