Sally Kristen Ride made history as the first American woman and the third woman in the world to venture into space. She was a pioneering astronaut, physicist, and role model, inspiring generations of girls to pursue STEM education and careers.
Ride’s legacy lives on through her work at NASA, encouraging students of all ages to explore science, mathematics, engineering, and aerospace. She also worked tirelessly for decades advocating for gender equality and resources for continued research & fairness in STEM fields.
Ride left an invaluable mark of progress on humanity, pioneering space exploration and achieving equality in STEM education. Through her efforts, we are inspired to continue toward a brighter future.
Sally Ride Facts for Kids
- Sally Ride was the first American woman in space.
- She flew on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.
- Ride was also a physicist and astronaut.
- She was the youngest American astronaut at 32 years old.
- Ride served on two space missions.
- After retiring from NASA, Ride became an education advocate.
Sally Ride’s Childhood and Education
Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California, and grew up with her younger sister. She was a brilliant student and earned an academic scholarship to the private Westlake School for Girls. In addition to academics, Sally was a nationally-ranked tennis player.
In college, she studied physics and English at Stanford University, a demanding double major.
After graduating, she continued to study physics there throughout her master’s degree and Ph.D. program. Her Ph.D. research focused on X-rays interaction between stars.
A gifted scholar and athlete, Sally Ride achieved many milestones in the sciences. She later transitioned into academia, where she authored books and introduced young students to incredible opportunities within STEM fields.
Ride dedicated much of her life to communicating science to young people across America through lectures, school visits, and various initiatives that combined fun with the discovery of outer space. Her unique approach sparked creativity in millions of lives as they were inspired by her boundless passion for knowledge.
Sally Ride’s Journey to Becoming an Astronaut
In 1978, NASA launched a call for applicants to its astronaut program, and Sally Ride received an acceptance letter.
She went through intensive training before taking part in two space shuttle missions: STS-2 and STS-3. In addition, she helped construct the “Canadarm” – the robotic arm of the space shuttle.
On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space onboard Challenger – just twenty years after Valentina Tereshkova broke that ground as a Soviet cosmonaut.
Prior to her achievement was Svetlana Savitskaya on another mission in 1982. During Ride’s mission, Challenger released two satellites and conducted many medical experiments. After a week-long journey, she returned back to earth on June 24, 1983.
In 1983, Sally Ride made history as the first American woman and the youngest American ever to venture into space. On her very first space mission aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, she became the first to use a robotic arm in orbit and successfully captured a satellite.
Ride accomplished a second mission for NASA in 1984, again aboard the Challenger, but this time as a mission specialist. Sadly, her third mission was thwarted by the tragic Challenger disaster of January 28, 1986. Despite this tragedy, Ride moved on from experience by helping form part of NASA’s Rogers Commission.
A commission issued a report entitled “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space” that led to the establishment of NASA’s Office of Exploration.
Despite her immense success with NASA, pre-flight publicity frequently focused on Sally being a female astronaut because many questioned whether or not her body would suffer unique effects due to being female while in space.
She famously insisted that she wasn’t “a female astronaut.” She was simply an astronaut, regardless of gender. This attitude propelled her throughout her career as she achieved military spacecraft records that served as an example for future astronauts of any gender.
Sally Ride’s Post-NASA Career and Advocacy Work
The Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University hired Sally Ride in 1987 after she left Washington, D.C. She became a professor at the University of California San Diego in 1989.
Subsequently, she landed the role of Director of The California Space Institute and took on two NASA outreach initiatives, ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM.
Students used a camera on the International Space Station to take pictures of Earth and the Moon.
Ride then ventured into founding her own company called Sally Ride Science, which is dedicated to providing girls with inspiring science programs and publications.
However, when the space shuttle Columbia accident happened in 2003, Ride accepted an invitation from NASA’s Columbia Accident Investigation Board to join the team in investigating the cause behind this tragedy.
In 2003, Sally Ride was honored as part of the Astronaut Hall of Fame – she was an inspiration to many and co-authored as well wrote books about space with the intent to encourage young children to explore science.
On May 7, 2009, Ride became a member of the United States Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, and her work throughout her whole life has made a lasting impact.
Remembering Sally Ride: Her Passing and Lasting Impact
After being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Ride passed away on July 23, 2012. She died in her home in La Jolla, California, and was cremated afterward with her ashes entombed at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery in Santa Monica.
Until her death, Tam O’Shaughnessy was Ride’s long-term partner of 27 years; they met as aspiring tennis players in 1985, and their relationship continued until her passing.
Sally Ride was an exceptional person with tremendous spirit and curiosity. She devoted her life to expanding opportunities for women and girls in science, technology, engineering, and math. As the first American woman in space, she made history that will never be forgotten.
Under President Barrack Obama’s leadership, Sally Ride was honored as a national hero who inspired generations of young women to pursue their dreams despite any obstacles that stood in their way. Her courage opened the door for future generations of young girls to reach for the stars.
She embodied unwavering commitment and ambition throughout her life. The unrelenting passion she had for education and learning showed how challenging traditional gender roles could truly bring out one’s best capabilities.
Sally’s remarkable journey proves that anything is possible when you have resilience and faith in yourself. She set a powerful example of learning through experience, taking risks, making mistakes, and pushing boundaries — all while believing that success is inevitable with the right mindset. With her legacy, it’s easy to understand why she will forever be remembered as an inspiration to us all.