What image first comes to mind when anyone thinks of astronaut Sally Ride? Some conjure the picture of Ride floating in zero gravity in the space shuttle, with a smile on her face holding a headset on her left ear. Or, maybe it is Ride standing alongside the five other women astronauts of the NASA 1978 astronaut class. For many, their knowledge of Sally Ride begins and ends at her NASA career and the title of the first American woman in space. After she retired from NASA, Sally Ride utilized her groundbreaking status to launch a variety of business ventures that would inspire the next generation of astronauts and scientists. Two of these businesses were the website Space.com and the education organization Sally Ride Science. Archival material from the Sally K. Ride Papers, held in the National Air and Space Museum Archives, helps us tell the story of these two business ventures.
In the 1990s, the explosion of the World Wide Web brought about an unprecedented flow of information on every subject imaginable. Everything from movies to cooking to TV shows to finances had one or more dedicated websites to keep people up to date with the latest developments in these subject areas. Yet there was a problem with this abundance of websites: Most of these sites were built by amateurs, whose designs and organization of the informational content left a lot to be desired. In the realm of astronomy and space, this was true as well. As the new millennium was beginning to dawn, Sally Ride, along with a group of astronomy and business professionals (including Lou Dobbs and Rich Zahradnik), came together to develop a website dedicated to covering news related to space and astronomy. The resulting website was Space.com. The impetus for such a website was to take advantage of the internet to create a one-stop shop website that was solely dedicated to space news, entertainment, and education for the public.
Additionally, Sally Ride and her business partners took advantage of the historic moments surrounding space exploration in the late 1990s, including Senator John Glenn’s historic Space Shuttle flight and the preparations for the establishment of the International Space Station, to launch Space.com.
Drawing on these historic milestones, Ride and her business team saw that the public still had an appetite for all things space exploration and knew that a high-quality website dedicated to all things space-related would perfectly satiate that need.
However, identifying the need for a website that focused on all aspects of space was just the first step. In Sally Ride’s own notebooks, she jotted down detailed thoughts and strategies that ranged from website design to software selection to crafting a strategic plan for developing partnerships in the areas of education and science, in an effort to make the website as far reaching as it could be.
The results of all the planning paid off for Ride and her team with sponsorships from science organizations and magazines. Discover gave Space.com ad space in their print publications and Sally Ride was named the first president of Space.com. From that position, Sally Ride then created a separate channel within the Space.com site, called SpaceKids to curate kid-specific content related to space and help to inspire the next generation of astronauts and astronomers. Ride’s focus on inspiring kids to take up careers in science would serve her well in her next business venture, Sally Ride Science.
Sally Ride Science
The main gist of entrepreneurship is identifying a need in society and then figuring out a product to meet said need. In the mid-1990s, Ride decided to use her status as the first American woman in space to help close the gender gap in the in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Drawing from her experience working on the launch of Space.com, Sally Ride researched the cultural and societal reasons that accounted for girls being less interested in the STEM fields than boys.
Ride parlayed that research into her first science advocacy company Imaginary Lines. In its early presentation materials, Imaginary Lines explicitly laid out the appalling numbers that showed a wide gender gap in the STEM fields and explained why it was necessary for more girls to go into said fields.
Sally Ride knew it was one thing to have an idea, but another to make it a reality. She took extensive notes on how to raise money and get corporate support for her science literacy program, as well as comparing similar organizations in terms of their strengths and weakness in performing science outreach to young girls, in order to develop her own unique company strategy.
The results from all this research would become Sally Ride Science. Founded by Sally Ride, her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, Karen Flammer, Terry McEntee, and Alann Lopes in 2001, this organization would create teaching packets, posters, and books, as well as sponsor science festivals to inspire young girls to pursue a career in science. In the year 2021, twenty years after its founding, Sally Ride Science continues to create innovative programming to inspire the next generation of scientists.
Sally Ride’s ventures into the business world through the establishment of the Space.com website and creating Sally Ride Science, perfectly encapsulates how a landmark figure used her legendary status to give back to the world and make it a better place for all humanity.