[WATCH VIDEO: Sally Ride Anniversary]
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly into space after securing a spot aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7 on June 18, 1983. Her goals captured the attention of the nation, inspiring women everywhere to break barriers.
Ride was one of three specialists on STS-7 and was instrumental in helping the crew deploy communication satellites, conduct experiments and make use of the first Shuttle Pallet Satellite. As a pioneer for female space travel, Ride inspired “generations of young girls to reach for the stars [and] showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve,” said President Barack Obama during a speech following her death last summer.
Ride spent the last several months of her life battling pancreatic cancer, finally giving in to the battle on July 23, 2012 at the age of 61 years young. She was born in Los Angeles, California on May 26, 1951.
Ride was fascinated by science from a young age and pursued the study of physics in school. She graduated from Stanford University with a PhD in physics, also conducting research into astrophysics and electron laser physics. It was during these studies that Ride discovered a newspaper ad for NASA astronauts.
After turning in an application along with 8,000 other people, Ride became one of only 35 selected for astronaut training. She joined NASA in 1978 and served as a ground-based capsule communicator (capcom) for the STS-2 and STS-3 missions. She also helped in the development of the Space Shuttle´s robotic arm.
After being selected as a crew member for STS-7, Ride faced an onslaught of attention from the media. However, she found no time for sensitive, or perhaps insensitive, questions that seemed to take center stage from media hounds — questions such as “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
Being an astronaut and scientist left little time for Ride to be a woman. She said during one interview that “one thing I probably share with everyone else in the astronaut office is composure.” In reference to her fellow astronauts in the class of 1978, she said, “We’re all people who are dedicated to the space program and who really want to fly in the space shuttle. That’s a common characteristic that we all have that transcends the different backgrounds.”
Bob Crippen, Ride´s commander during STS-7, noted that Sally was more than capable of flying in space. He said, “I wanted a competent engineer who was cool under stress. Sally had demonstrated that talent.”
After her historic STS-7 mission, Ride continued her NASA career, flying on a second mission (STS-41G) less than a year later in October 1984. She also later served on the presidential commission that investigated the Challenger disaster and also led NASA´s strategic planning effort in the mid-1980s.
Ride retired from NASA in 1987 and became a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. In 1989, she also joined the University of California-San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute.
Ride founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, in 2001. This let her pursue her passion for motivating boys and girls to study in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The company creates innovative classroom materials, programs and professional development training for teachers as well.
Since being part of the investigative team for the 1986 Challenger disaster, Ride was also selected as an investigator for the 2003 Columbia accident, becoming the only person to serve on both commissions.
Ride was also an aspiring author, inspiring boys and girls by writing a number of science books for children. Her book ℠The Third Planet,´ won the American Institute of Physics Children´s Science Writing Award in 1995
Her untimely death in 2012 left behind a heroic legacy.
While NASA celebrates the 30th anniversary of one pioneering woman, Russia also celebrated the anniversary of the first woman in space on June 16, marking 50 years since female cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova made a historic space flight aboard Vostok 6, which blasted off on a three-day, 48-orbit mission over Earth.
Just like Sally Ride did in her time, Tereshkova “inspired women around the world to reach for their dreams and shoot for the stars.”
Tereshkova, who reached space once again in 1984, set another milestone when she became the first woman to ever walk in space.
Ride and Tereshkova, as the first women to fly in space, helped usher in new eras of equality in human spaceflight. On the anniversary of their missions, the legacies they left behind remind all of us of the passion and dedication of the women who have paved the way for more than 55 women to have since journeyed into space.
Sadly, a female teacher who would have become the first civilian astronaut to ever fly into space was among the seven killed when the Challenger Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986.
Image Below: STS-7 Mission Specialist Sally Ride poses on aft flight deck with her back to the onorbit station. Credit: NASA