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Sally Ride was the first American woman in space

Goran Blazeski

Sally Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in California to Dale B. Ride, a political science professor, and Carol Joyce Anderson Ride, a volunteer counselor. During her childhood, her parents were her greatest support. They encouraged her to explore, study hard, and do her best.

As a youngster, Sally showed interests in many sports. She played football, volleyball, and baseball, but her favorite sport was tennis. In her short tennis career, she participated in the national junior tennis circuit where she was ranked eighteenth. Her tennis skills won her a partial scholarship to the prep school Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.

Sally Ride in 1984

Sally Ride in 1984

Sally was a smart student who read a lot, especially science fiction. During high school, she became interested in physics. After finishing high school, she continued her education at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, where she studied physics. She also continued to play tennis while at Swarthmore. Three years later, she returned to California and entered Stanford University.

In 1973, Sally earned a Bachelor degree of science in physics and a Bachelor of arts. In 1975, she received her master degree and went on to study physics, astronomy, and astrophysics. Eventually, she earned her Ph.D. in 1978.

In the same year, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) issued a call for qualified students to join their astronaut program. As Sally had all the required qualifications, she immediately applied when she saw the ad. Eight thousand people applied for the program, but only 35 were selected as participants. Sally Ride was one of the six women that were selected for space flight training.

Ride on Challenger's mid-deck during STS-7 in 1983

Ride on Challenger’s mid-deck during STS-7 in 1983

The first part of her training included studying math, meteorology, navigation, radio communications, and computers. Then, she trained for flying on a T-38 et trainer and other simulators. She also trained water survival, parachute jumping, weightlessness and the huge G-forces of a rocket launch.

Sally Ride while promoting the Sally Ride Science Festival at UCSD in 2006. Photo Credit

Sally Ride while promoting the Sally Ride Science Festival at UCSD in 2006 Photo Credit

While many were impressed by the knowledge of this woman, some were very skeptical. However, Sally was chosen to be the capsule communicator of the ground-support crew for the second and the third shuttle flight in 1981 and 1982, respectively.

In 1983, after becoming a qualified astronaut, Sally was chosen to serve as a flight engineer on her first shuttle mission, for the seventh shuttle flight, ‘STS-7’. The mission lasted 147 hours. Up until this point, no American woman had gone into the orbit. Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Also, she was the first woman to operate the shuttle’s robotic arm.

One year later, Sally was once again chosen for another Challenger flight which lasted around eight days. Her third Challenger was canceled because the shuttle suddenly broke apart in 1986, seconds after take-off. After the explosion, Sally worked with the NASA crew who had investigated the accident.

Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission in Challenger, 1983

Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission in Challenger, 1983

Sally left NASA in 1987 and worked as a physics professor and a director at the University of California. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company which helped young girls to explore and pursue their passion for science.

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Sally Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61. She will be remembered as the first American woman in space.