Over the past 60 years, many have answered the call to explore “the final frontier”. However, few of them have had as illustrious a career as Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space.
Let’s take a closer look at the career and life of this amazing pioneer.
Dr. Sally Kristen Ride was born in Encino, California on May 26, 1951. She was the eldest of two daughters born to Carol Joyce Ride (née Anderson) and Dale Burdell Ride. Sally’s parents encouraged both her and her sister to study and work hard, but to also explore and develop at their own pace.
From a young age, Ride showed natural athletic ability. Sally developed a love for the game at the age of 10 and played for years. She ranked eighteenth on the national junior tennis circuit and managed to win a partial scholarship to the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.
Sally kept her grades high throughout her entire time in school, reading often and becoming enamored with science fiction. During her junior year of high school, Ride’s science teacher inspired her to pursue an interest in physics. This newfound love of the subject caused Ride to enroll in the physics program at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and eventually return to California to become an undergraduate student at Stanford University.
In 1973, Ride graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. She continued her studies at Stanford, acquiring both a master’s degree and a doctorate in physics in 1975 and 1978.
In 1977, Dr. Ride answered NASA ad calling for young scientists to become “mission specialists” on space flights, that was placed in the local newspaper. Dr. Ride was selected to be one of only five women in NASA’s class of 1978, where she trained extensively. Finally, after years of study, training, and preparation, Dr. Ride got to see the world from high above.
In 1983, Dr. Ride was selected to partake in the second mission for the space shuttle Challenger STS-7. This week-long mission marked the first time an American woman was sent into space, cementing Dr. Ride’s place in history. In 1984, Dr. Ride was sent up again for another Challenger flight, a mission that made her the first woman to go into space twice. This extensive experience with the Challenger served as the reason NASA chose Dr. Sally Ride for the panel that would investigate the tragic 1986 incident where the Challenger exploded 73 seconds into its tenth mission. This appointment led to Dr. Ride becoming a leader of a task force for the future of the space program. She claimed that NASA had a duty to educate and inform the American people, as well as cultivate the interest of young people who may have had dreams of seeing space one day.
Dr. Sally Ride was an inspiration to young scientists and women alike and became a figurehead of the national space program. She later worked as a physicist and physics professor at the University of California, as well as the director of the California Space Science Institute. Dr. Ride wrote multiple books on science and space exploration, mostly aimed at children. She also formed “Imaginary Lines”, a company whose main purpose was the support of young girls who were interested in math and science. In 2001, Dr. Ride founded Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit organization designed to encourage children of all backgrounds to engage in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning and to promote STEM literacy.
On July 23, 2012, Dr. Sally Ride passed away at the age of 61 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Her life was one of discovery, trailblazing, and inspiration for any who wanted to follow in her footsteps. She and many other individuals have laid down a solid path from the Earth to the stars and everywhere in between.
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