Sally Kristen Ride was born May 26th, 1951 to parents Joyce and Dale Ride in idealistic Southern California. She was intrinsically shy and was nurtured by her parents in a progressive, free-thinking household. Sally’s parents never expected less of her because of her gender, and she was raised to love both sports and academics from an early age. As a teen, she attended a private, all-girls school where she took advanced classes and spent the weekend playing competitive tennis. She took classes at UCLA before transferring to Stanford to complete a rare double major.
While Sally Ride was studying to complete her Ph.D., a front-page article on The Stanford Daily caught her eye. “NASA to Recruit Women” the paper stated, and Ride chose to apply as a ‘mission specialist’. She was successful and was one of the class of thirty-five new astronauts (known as thirty-five new guys or TFNG). This group of astronauts was the first to include women and racial minorities. Sally Ride also managed to complete her Ph.D. while in training. Hard work and rigorous studying paid off as Sally was selected to be the first American woman in space. Once Dr. Ride was named, she often experienced passive sexism, which she deflected or shut down using her famed wit.
On June 18th, 1983, Sally Ride flew her first mission on the Challenger Shuttle and became the first female astronaut. Her crew launched a communications satellite and performed various experiments on board. Dr. Ride spent all her free time gazing down at the Earth below, where she gained an appreciation for how fragile Earth was and how thin the atmosphere was.
Once safe on Earth, Ride was faced with a plethora of unwanted publicity. A natural introvert, the celebrity associated with being the first woman in space tailed her for the rest of her life. She went on a tour of the United States and Europe. Ironically, she was more intimidated by speaking in front of a large crowd than flying to space.
Once the press buzz had died down, Sally returned to her work at NASA as an astronaut, where she flew once more and worked in mission control. She was in training for her third mission when the Challenger Shuttle exploded and was then named to the Rogers Commision, dedicated to investigating the accident. She was the one responsible for the discovery of the cause of the accident but remained anonymous to protect her source. After the Rogers commission, she headed a committee to determine the future of NASA’s space exploration.
In 1987, Sally Ride left NASA for her alma mater, Stanford, in International Security and Arms Control. She then moved to UC San Diego, where she was a professor of physics and the head of the California Space Program. She continued to lead youth outreach programs for NASA, such as EarthKAM and the GRAIL MoonKAM. Sally was also asked to serve on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, becoming the only person to serve on both disaster investigations
Sally Ride also co-founded Sally Ride Science, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to engaging middle school learners in the STEM fields. She dedicated her later life to S.R.S. and inspired many young girls with her work. She worked with UC San Diego to bring this program to youth across the country, and it’s still running.
In 2012, Sally tragically died of pancreatic cancer, surrounded by friends and loved ones. She continued to break barriers after her passing, revealing that she was part of the LGBTQ+ community and had been in a relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy, co-founder of Sally Ride Science for 27 years. Post-humously, she became the first openly gay astronaut.