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 was the first American woman in space in 1983 on space shuttle Challenger and was a former NASA Astronaut.

She flew two Space Shuttle flights, and later became a champion for science education and a role model for generations.

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 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.


Sally Ride graduated in 1968 from Westlake High School (Los Angeles, California).

Sally enrolled at Swarthmore College in 1968 as a physics major, but she dropped out after three semesters to work on her tennis game full time.

In 1970, Sally gave up tennis and went to Stanford University where she took a double major in physics and English literature. In 1973 she got a Bachelor of Science in physics and a Bachelor of Arts in English.

She did further studies and received a Master of Science and doctorate degrees in physics from Stanford University in 1975 and 1978.

Joining NASA

During her time at Stanford University she heard NASA was looking for young scientists to serve as mission specialists on the Space Shuttle and she applied.

Sally Ride joined NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) in 1977 (at the age of 26) as an astronaut trainee.

Training for NASA

Sally Ride was selected for astronaut training by NASA in January 1978 and became candidate for assignment as a Mission Specialist on Space Shuttle flights in July 1979.

Sally served as CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator) during STS-2 second Space Shuttle Flight (November 1981) and STS-3, the third flights of the Space Shuttle Columbia March 1982). She relayed radio messages from mission control to the Space Shuttle crews.

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

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, 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. When the investigation ended, 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 from pancreatic cancer.

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, The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space, Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System 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.


Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space by Lynn Sherr

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