On June 18, 1983, Dr. Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space.
Ride joined NASA in 1978, part of a class of all women astronauts. 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.
After she retiring from NASA, Sally Ride became a physics professor and launched a variety of business ventures that would inspire the next generation of astronauts and scientists.
Ride was born in suburban Encino, California. As a teenager she took up tennis and within a few years was ranked 18th nationally. 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. Ride continued at Stanford for a PhD in physics, where her research focused on the absorption of X-rays by interstellar gas.
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. Ride was flown to Johnson Space Center outside Houston for physical fitness tests, psychiatric evaluation, and personal interviews. Three months later, Ride became one of the first six women selected as astronaut candidates, or ascans. She was a part of Astronaut Group 8, which formed in 1978. (After approximately two years of training the ascans become astronauts.)
In 1983, Sally Ride became the first US woman to fly in space as part of STS-7. While learning to use a new space 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 flew on a second mission, STS-41G, in 1984.
She served on both commissions appointed to investigate the causes and recommend remedies after the tragic losses of the Challenger and Columbia crews.
More About Ride's Work on the Rogers Commission
She also led the task force that produced a visionary strategic planning report in 1987 titled, “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space,” but known popularly as the Ride Report.
After she retired from NASA in 1987, Sally Ride became a physics professor and utilized her groundbreaking status to launch a variety of business ventures that would inspire the next generation of astronauts and scientists.
In the Collection
Take a closer look at Sally Ride's T-38 helmet, and discover what you can learn from the object's details.
Tam O’Shaughnessy, Sally Ride’s partner in life, generously offered historians Valerie Neal and Margaret Weitekamp and archivist Patti Williams access to the papers and possessions of the first American woman in space. What stories, objects, and documents trace the full arc of Sally Ride’s life and represent key moments of achievement? Join this group as they discuss the selected objects and papers that signify Sally Ride the public figure and private person, and how Sally Ride’s story intersects with social and cultural themes of her era.