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If you like Sally Ride's story, you might also like:
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Linda Buck,
Sylvia Earle,
Gertrude Elion,
Daniel J. Goldin,
Jane Goodall,
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and Chuck Yeager

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Sally Ride
Sally Ride
Profile of Sally Ride Biography of Sally Ride Interview with Sally Ride Sally Ride Photo Gallery

Sally Ride Biography

First American Woman in Space

Sally Ride Date of birth: May 26, 1951
Date of death: July 23, 2012

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  Sally Ride

Sally Ride Biography Photo
Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up in the suburban community of Encino in the San Fernando Valley. In addition to being an excellent student with a strong interest in science, she was a talented athlete. At age 10, she began playing tennis, a sport at which she particularly excelled. She became a nationally ranked junior tennis player and attended Westlake School for Girls on a tennis scholarship.

After graduation, she enrolled at Swarthmore University in Pennsylvania but soon doubted her choice, wondering if she was missing the opportunity for a professional tennis career. Determined to find out, she left Swarthmore after her first year to see how far her tennis game would take her. After three months of intense training, she concluded that she would not have a professional athletic career and enrolled at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. She graduated with bachelor's degrees in both English and physics, and remained at Stanford to earn a master's and a Ph.D. in physics. As a graduate student, she carried out research in astrophysics and free-electron laser physics.

From childhood, Sally Ride had been fascinated with space exploration, but throughout the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space flight programs, the ranks of the astronaut corps had been closed to women. From its inception, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, had recruited its astronauts from the ranks of military test pilots. This changed in 1978, when NASA set out to recruit more scientists, including women, for the new Space Shuttle program. At 27, Ride was completing her Ph.D. when she saw an advertisement NASA had placed in the Stanford University newspaper, seeking recruits for the astronaut corps. She saw the opportunity of a lifetime. She was one of more than 8,000 applicants for only 35 positions, but to her astonishment, she made the cut, and was one of only six women accepted for astronaut training that year.

Sally Ride Biography Photo
A year of intensive preparation followed. The new astronaut's curriculum included parachute jumping, water survival, gravity and weightlessness training, radio communications, navigation and flight instruction. Sally Ride came to enjoy flying so much that it became a lifelong hobby. After her initial training period, Ride served as communications officer for the second and third Shuttle flights, relaying radio messages from Mission Control to the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia. She was also assigned to the team that developed the Shuttle's mechanical robot arm, designed to deploy and retrieve satellites. Two Russian women had previously orbited the earth as part of the Soviet space program, but when Sally Ride was chosen for the crew of the seventh Shuttle mission, STS-7, the story swept through the news media. Sally Ride would be the first American woman to travel in space.

Sally Ride Biography Photo
Ride's mission would be the second flight for the vehicle known as the Challenger, and the first American space mission to carry a crew of five. To the accompaniment of a fanfare of publicity, Sally Ride boarded the Challenger on June 18, 1983, and the Challenger roared from the launch pad and into earth orbit. Over the course of the six-day mission, the crew used the robot arm in space for the first time, retrieving one satellite from orbit and releasing another. In all, the mission deployed two communications satellites for the governments of Canada and Indonesia. It also conducted the first experiment in formation flying with a satellite in orbit, and carried out a number of experiments in material and pharmaceutical research. The mission ended with a successful landing on the lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Sally Ride returned to space in the Challenger as a Mission Specialist on flight STS 41-G on October 5, 1984. This mission's crew of seven was NASA's largest yet. The eight-day mission deployed new satellites, made observations of the earth with new large-format cameras and demonstrated a technique of refueling satellites in orbit. The Challenger landed safely at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on October 13, 1984. Over the course of these two missions, Sally Ride had logged more than 343 hours in space.

Ride was eight months into preparation for her next flight in the Challenger when disaster struck. On January 28, 1986, the Challenger fell to pieces a few minutes after take-off. The entire crew, many of them close friends of her from training days, perished in the catastrophe. Preparation for further missions was immediately suspended. Ride was appointed to the Presidential Commission investigating the accident, heading the Commission's Subcommittee on Operations. When the investigation was complete, Ride was assigned to NASA's Washington headquarters as Special Assistant to the Administrator for long-range and strategic planning. She led the agency's first strategic planning effort, and wrote the report "Leadership and America's Future in Space." Before leaving NASA in 1987, she founded the agency's Office of Exploration.

Sally Ride Biography Photo
For the first two years after leaving NASA, Ride was a Science Fellow at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989 she was appointed Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego, and Director of the University's California Space Institute. Under Ride's leadership, CalSpace, as it is familiarly called, conducted and supported space research with a special emphasis on the application of space technology in the practice of remote sensing and in the study of global climate change. As a research scientist, her work centered on the theory of non-linear beam-wave interactions.

Over the years, Sally Ride became concerned with the under-representation of women in the sciences. Since boys and girls display an equal enthusiasm for science in the early grades, Ride focused her efforts on the promotion of science in the middle grades, when girls in particular often drift away from the study of science. She wrote a number of books on space exploration for younger readers, including her memoir, To Space and Back, The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth From Space, Exploring Our Solar System, Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System and The Mystery of Mars.

Sally Ride Biography Photo
In 1999 and 2000, Ride served as President of, a web site concerning all aspects of the space industry. She then initiated NASA's Internet-based EarthKAM project, enabling middle school students to shoot and download images of the Earth from space.

Tragedy befell the American space program again in 2003, when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentering the atmosphere. Once again, the entire crew was lost, and a government commission was formed to investigate the calamity. Sally Ride was the only member of the previous Challenger Commission to join the Space Shuttle Columbia Accident Investigation Board.

Sally Ride took a leave from the University of California to focus on her role as President and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she founded to create entertaining science programs and publications for students in middle school and the upper grades of elementary school. An important element of the company's mission was supporting girls whose interests lie in science, math and technology. It sponsored Sally Ride Clubs for girls at schools across the country and Sally Ride Science Camps at a number of college campuses. As great as were her own accomplishments in space exploration and astrophysics, Sally Ride's most enduring legacy may lie in the cumulative achievement of subsequent generations of young scientists, male and female, that she fostered and inspired. Sally Ride died of cancer in 2012, at the age of 61. The year following her death, she was posthumously awarded the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

This page last revised on Aug 12, 2013 12:45 EDT
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