In 1983, twenty-two years after the first United States manned space mission, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She was a mission specialist on the Challenger, the seventh space shuttle flight.
Ride had applied to be an astronaut in 1977 after seeing an announcement that NASA was looking for young scientists to serve as mission specialists on its shuttle flights. Previous astronauts had been military test pilots, but NASA was looking for scientists and technicians who could monitor the complex technology of the shuttle. Eight thousand people responded to the announcement, one thousand of them women. Six women, among them Sally Ride, were selected for a group of 35 new astronauts in 1978.
Becoming an astronaut had not been a lifelong goal for Ride. A talented athlete, she had considered a professional tennis career, but decided against it because, her mother says, she could not make the ball go exactly where she wanted it. Instead, she enrolled at Stanford University, graduating in 1973 with degrees in physics and English. She continued her studies in physics, earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics shortly before joining NASA.
As a mission specialist on the six-day Challenger mission, her responsibilities included testing a robot arm which deployed and retrieved satellites, assisting the commander and shuttle pilot during ascent, re-entry, and landing, and acting as flight engineer. She said of that 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.” Ride flew into space again in 1984. In 1986, she was part of the presidential commission investigating the Challenger explosion.
In 1987, she left NASA to accept a fellowship at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, an innovative science content company dedicated to supporting girls’ and boys’ interests in science, math and technology. Ride served as the organization’s President & CEO.