Sally Ride

May 26, 1951 -

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. As a young girl Ride enjoyed sports, particularly softball. She also liked to read mysteries and action stories. Her parents placed importance on exploring as she grew up. Often visitors from foreign countries were asked to dinner at the Ride’s household. From these visits Ride learned about the world and its many languages and customs.

After a year long family trip to Europe, Ride learned to play tennis. She worked hard at the sport and at the age of eleven she took lessons from Alice Marble, a four-time women’s national champion. Ride improved each year and was eventually offered a scholarship from a private girls’ high school in Los Angeles. In high school Ride enjoyed tennis but was often bored with her regular academic classes. The one subject she did like was science. Her interest in science lead her to an interest in stars and space.

In 1969 Ride entered Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania to study science. Later she changed schools to attend Stanford University in California. Ride graduated in 1973 with a degree in English and a degree in physics. She then continued her studies in graduate school graduating with a Ph.D. in astrophysics.

While she was still attending school, Ride applied to be an astronaut at NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 8,900 people applied. 208 of those, including Sally Ride, were selected for training. Then in January of 1978, NASA announced the 35 people selected as astronaut candidates. Again Dr. Ride was one of those chosen.

Ride and the other candidates took classes in mathematics, meteorology, astronomy and other subjects. They also all learned about three parts of the Space Transportation System. In addition each candidate was trained as a specialist in one area. Ride’s special training was with the remote manipulator system, a huge robotic arm used to handle cargo or to release and pick up satellites. By January of 1979 the candidates’ training was complete.

Ride served in two important NASA positions after her training. One was as a crew member in a chase plane for shuttle flights. The other was as a Capcom, capsule communicator, from the ground to the shuttle. She was the first woman to ever be placed as a Capcom.

In April of 1982, NASA announced that Ride would be among the crew for the STS-7, or seventh shuttle flight, on the Challenger space shuttle. She was to be the first American woman in space. As the first American woman astronaut Ride received a lot of attention. More so than the rest of the STS-7 crew. Ride worked hard to be a team player and emphasized that she was selected based upon her qualifications. Her gender had nothing to do with her selection or how she would perform in space.

Finally on June 18, 1983 launch day for the Challenger arrived. During the flight, Ride and the other mission specialist who had studied the remote manipulator system, John Fabian, used the arm to place two satellites into orbit. Both were launched successfully on the first attempt. Ride also conducted experiments with growing radish and sunflower plants from seeds without gravity. Another experiment in which she participated was the affects of zero gravity on a colony of carpenter ants.

Ride’s last job was to send out and retrieve a satellite, the SPAS. Successfully done, the SPAS, was the first satellite ever to be returned to earth from space. It was also the first satellite to ever take pictures of a space shuttle during flight in outer space. When the Challenger touched down at Edward’s Air Force Base in California, it ended a 6 day 2 hour flight for America’s first woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride.

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To find out more about space and astronauts take a look at our Night Sky Watching page and our biographies of Neil Armstrong and Ellen Ochoa.

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