Sally Ride


Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983 on space shuttle Challenger and was a former NASA Astronaut. Her second shuttle flight was again on Challenger aloft in 1984 for an eight day mission and was preparing for her third mission when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was appointed to the Presidential Commission that investigated the Challenger accident and subsequently moved to NASA headquarters as an assistant to the administrator for long-range planning. She retired from NASA in 1987.

Sally Ride Picture - First American Woman in Space


Sally Kristen Ride was born on 26 May, 1951 in suburban Encino, Los Angeles, California. As a teenager she took up tennis and within a few years was ranked eighteenth nationally.

She gained a BA in English (1973), a BS degree in Physics (1973), an MS degree in Physics (1975) and her PHD in Physics (1978) all from Stanford University.

Between 1973 and 1978 she held teaching, assistant and research assignments whilst a graduate student in the physics department of Stanford University, experience including one summer with the low-temperatures group working with experimental general relativity and three years X-ray astrophysics whilst working on her thesis.

Selected to NASA in January 1978 (Group 8), she completed training in August 1978. Thereafter she performed underwater zero-g simulations with the mock-up RMS, was a member of the RMS core group and worked with SPAS/RMS deployment -retrieval procedures throughout 1980 and 1981. She was then Capcom for Shuttles 2 and 3 before being selected as MS-2 for Shuttle 7 on April 20, 1982.


She graduated from Westlake High School, Los Angeles, California, in 1968; received a bachelor of science in physics and a bachelor of arts in English in 1973 and Master of Science and doctorate degrees in physics in 1975 and 1978, respectively, from Stanford University. As a young girl, she wanted to become a professional tennis player and, at one time, was a ranked player on the junior tennis circuit.

She graduated from Westlake High School in 1968 and received a Bachelor of Science in physics and a Bachelor of Arts in English in 1973 from Stanford University. She also received her Master of Science and doctorate degrees in physics from Stanford in 1975 and 1978.

In 1968, she enrolled at Swarthmore College as a physics major, but she dropped out after three semesters to work on her tennis game full time. In 1970, Ride gave up tennis and entered Stanford University, where she took a double major in physics and English literature. Her doctoral dissertation studied the theoretical behaviour of free electrons in a magnetic field. While at the University she saw an announcement that NASA was looking for young scientists to serve as mission specialists, and she immediately applied. She passed NASA’s preliminary process and became one of the 208 finalists.


She started playing tennis when she was 10. First she began her career as a professional tennis player. Later she quit playing tennis and enrolled at Stanford University.

Joining NASA

She joined NASA in 1977, when she was 26 and became Dr. Sally Ride the next year.

Sally Ride joined the NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1977 as an astronaut trainee. She served as communications officer for the second and third flights of the space shuttle Columbia in 1981 and 1982. She was also part of the design team that developed the remote mechanical arm used by shuttle crews to deploy and retrieve satellites on orbit.

She was selected for astronaut training in 1978, and reported to NASA in July of that year. As part of her training, she was a member of the support crew for both the second and third space shuttle flights, and worked in mission control as a capsule communicatory (CAPCOM) for those two missions.

Dr. Ride was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in January 1978 became eligible for assignment as a mission specialist on space shuttle flights in August 1979. Her extensive training included parachute jumping, water survival, gravity and weightlessness training, radio communications and navigation. Ride served as communications officer, relaying radio messages from mission control to the shuttle crews, during the second and third flights of the space shuttle Columbia (November 1981 and March 1982). Dr. Ride was also assigned to the team that designed the remote mechanical arm, used by shuttle crews to deploy and retrieve satellites.

Training for NASA

The training for NASA was tough and fun. Sally got to parachute, practice water survival, gravity and weightlessness, radio communication, and navigation.

Ride was flown to Johnson Space Center outside Houston for physical fitness tests, psychiatric evaluation and personal interviews. Three months later, she was an astronaut and one of five women selected for the class of 1978. While learning to use a new Shuttle remote manipulative arm for a future mission, Ride acted as backup orbit Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) for STS-2 and prime orbit CAPCOM for STS-3. She was named a mission specialist on the seventh flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 and flew on a second mission in 1984. Following the 1986 Challenger disaster, Ride served on the investigation committee. She left NASA in 1987 to pursue an academic career.

NASA Space Shuttle Missions

Sally Ride flew in space twice. In 1983 she flew on the Challenger (STS-7) and Challenger (STS 41-G). By that time she spent more than 343 hours in space.

STS-7 (Mission Specialist)

Sally Ride became the first American woman to orbit Earth when she flew on Space Shuttle Challenger STS-7 mission on 18 June, 1983. This was the second flight of Challenger mission to Earth orbit.

During the mission, the 5 crew member team deployed communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia, performed the first satellite deployment and retrieval with the shuttle’s robot arm and conducted materials and pharmaceutical research. STS-7 mission duration was 6 days (147 hours) in orbit, then landing on a lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California on 24 June, 1983.

STS 41-G (Mission Specialist)

Sally Ride’s second flight to space was as a mission specialist on the  sixth flight of Space Shuttle Challenger STS 41-G. It was launched on 5 October 5, 1984. Mission duration was 197 hours.

During the mission, the crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget satellite, conducted scientific observations of the Earth and demonstrated the potential for satellite refueling by astronauts. The mission landed at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.


At the time of the Challenger loss, Ride was in training as an MS with a new crew for a mission in July 1986 (61-M). She served as a member of the Presidential commission to investigate Challenger’s accident (February to June 1986).

STS 61-M

In June 1985, Sally Ride was assigned as a mission specialist on STS 61-M. This would have been her third space shuttle flight. Training for that flight was interrupted in January, 1986 by the Space Shuttle Challenger accident.

Challenger Explosion

She terminated mission training in January 1986 to serve as a member of the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident.

For the next six months she served as a memeber of the Presidential Commission investigating the accident. Upon completion of the investigation, she was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington D.C. as assistant to the NASA Administrator for long-range planning. In this role she created NASA’s Office of Exploration and produced a report on the future of the space program entitled “Leadership and America’s Future in Space.”

After Explosion

In 1986 the Challenger exploded and Sally Ride moved to Washington. There she became the assistant of the NASA administrator.

Retiring from NASA

Sally Ride retired from NASA in 1987 and became a Science Fellow at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control.

In 1989, she became the Director of the California Space Institute and Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego.

In June 1999 she joined, a website about the space industry. In September 1999 she was named president of the company, a position she held until September 2000.

After leaving, Sally Ride initiated and headed EarthKAM, an Internet-based NASA project that allows middle-school classes to shoot and download photos of the Earth from space.

She also ran Imaginary Lines, an organization founded to provide support for girls interested in careers in science, mathematics, and technology.

Sally Ride passed away on 23 July, 2012.

Books for Children

An advocate for improved science education, Sally Ride has written four children’s books: To Space and Back describing her experiences in space, Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System, The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space and The Mystery of Mars.

Did you know?

Barbara Morgan, the back up “Teacher in Space” in 1985 became the first teacher in space in 2007.

 * The Christa McAuliffe Planetarium in Concord, New Hampshire and the Christa McAuliffe Space Education Center in Pleasant Grove, Utah are named in her memory, as are asteroid 3352 McAuliffe and the McAuliffe crater on the Moon.


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