NASA’s Own: Sally Ride
“The stars don't look bigger, but they do look brighter.”
Sally Ride was the first LGBT astronaut, the first American woman in space, and worked for the NASA space program from 1978 until 1987, after which she served on the committees that investigated the Columbia and Challenger disasters. She was born on May 26th, 1951.
Ride studied both physics and English at Stanford University, and obtained a PhD. in physics by 1978. The same year, Ride answered an ad from NASA, along with nearly eight thousand other applicants, to participate in a rigorous selection process for becoming an astronaut.
First Woman in Space
On June 18th, Ride became the first woman in space, helping to deploy satellites as a mission specialist for the duration of the six day voyage aboard the Challenger. After a second trip in October, her third was ultimately canceled due to the Challenger explosion of 1986. She ended up serving on the committee investigation for the cause of the explosion.
After her career at NASA, Ride was first the director at California Space Institute at the University of California, San Diego, and then a professor of physics there. She and her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy started the nonprofit Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego in 2001, with the goal of, “inspiring young people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) and to promote STEM literacy.” (Check out their website here!)
Though Ride died in 2012, O’Shaughnessy still serves as executive director. The organization not only encourages middle and high school classes to think about careers in STEM with hands-on education, but also highlights the achievements of women scientists in the University of California network.
Honors and Legacy
In addition to having two US elementary schools named after her (one in Texas, and the other in Maryland), Ride has received numerous awards from NASA and the US government. She is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and the California Hall of Fame. One of NASA’s landing sites on a lunar expedition is named after her, and the US Navy named a ship in her honor in 2013.
The same year, Ride posthumously received both the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award from the Space Foundation, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama.
Sally Ride’s legacy lives on in her instrumental work at NASA and within the University of California system, encouraging women to pursue career opportunities in STEM fields, especially those related to science. Her acclaimed children’s book series can still be found on shelves today!