On this day in history 39 years ago NASA Astronaut Sally Kristen Ride became the first American woman in space, the first known member of the LGBT+ community in space, and the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space (she was 32). On June 18, 1983, Space Shuttle Challenger launched Ride and her four crewmates into space from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on mission STS-7. This was the seventh space shuttle flight and Challenger’s second; her inaugural flight was on April 4th of the same year. This mission was the most complex mission in the shuttle program to date: it lasted 6 days and the astronauts were tasked with deploying and retrieving satellites. Ride was instrumental in this mission, being the Mission Specialist and trained on the shuttle’s robotic arm for the satellite retrieval and deployment.
This historic launch was almost exactly 20 years to the day after the first woman traveled to space. The first woman to travel to space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova, launched on June 16, 1963. Ride became the third woman in space (with the second also being a Soviet cosmonaut), and the first American woman in space, and described the launch as “exhilarating, terrifying, and overwhelming all at the same time.”
Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. She went on to earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and her Ph.D. in physics from Stanford University. While in graduate school, Ride saw an article published in The Stanford Daily in January 1977 advertising that NASA was recruiting a new group of astronauts for the Space Shuttle program and they were including women, and she was inspired to apply. With the introduction of the space shuttle program, NASA expanded their astronaut candidate selection pool from only pilots to include scientists and engineers as well. In 1978, Ride and 5 other women were selected for NASA Astronaut Group 8, the first American selection class to include females.
Ride retired from NASA in 1987, becoming a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Throughout her career she wanted to encourage women and girls to study science and mathematics. Ride published many children’s books about space and came up with the idea for NASA’s EarthKAM project, which allows middle school students to take pictures of Earth using a camera on the International Space Station. In 2003, she was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame – honoring astronauts for their accomplishments in spaceflight. Sally Ride was a trailblazer and has inspired many women to follow their dreams and reach for the stars!