RIP Sally Ride, the First American Woman in Space
Remembering astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman ever to go into space.
Sad news this morning: Sally Ride passed away yesterday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer at the age of 61. Sally, an astronaut, physicist, and all-round awesome lady, was the first American woman to go into space. A true trailblazer, she led the way for future generations of women to break barriers in the fields of math, science, and technology. She will be sorely missed.
Sally was born in Encino, CA on May 26, 1951 with a family who encouraged her three primary interests: Her chemistry set, her telescope, and sports. She attended LA’s Westlake School for Girls (now the Harvard-Westlake School) on a tennis scholarship before going on to earn degrees in Physics and English from Stanford University. In 977, Sally was about to finish up her Ph.D. in physics when she spotted an ad in the Stanford student newspaper saying that NASA was looking for astronauts. Sally was one of 8,000 people who applied, out of which 35 new astronauts were chosen. Up until this point, all of NASA’s astronauts had been male military test pilots; but in January of 1978, Sally became one of NASA’s first six female astronauts. Momentous? Just a bit.
Astronaut training is (understandably) pretty intense, so it was about a year before Sally qualified for assignment on a space shuttle flight crew; the mission she was selected for, STS-7 aboard the Challenger, finally blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on June 18, 1983—making Sally the first American woman to go into space. The mission was full of firsts, by the way; she was also the first woman to use the robot arm in space, as well as the first to use the arm to retrieve a satellite. Her second space flight, again on the Challenger, was in 1984. Said Sally of her first flight, “The thing that I’ll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun I’ll ever have in my life.” Once all was said and done, Sally spent more than 343 hours in space.
Sally was training for her third mission when the Challenger disaster happened on January 28, 1986. In the aftermath, she was named to the presidential commission investigating the aftermath, heading its subcommittee on operations. She then worked at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC for a year, during which time she founded NASA’s Office of Exploration.