NASA portrait of Sally Ride, 1984. Credit: NASA
Sally Ride was born in Encino, California on May 26, 1951. She was the eldest of two daughters. Her father was a professor of political science and her mother was a counselor. Though neither of them had a background in the physical sciences, Sally credited them for fostering her deep interest in science by encouraging her to explore the world around her. Ride attended Westlake High School for Girls, a prep school in Los Angeles, on a partial tennis scholarship. After graduating, she made a brief foray into professional tennis but soon returned to California to attend Stanford University. There she received a bachelor of science degree in physics and a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1973. Furthering her studies at Stanford, she obtained a master of science degree in 1975 and a doctorate in physics in 1978.
STS-7 liftoff as seen from a Shuttle Training Aircraft (STA), June 1983. Credit: NASA
After completing her studies at Stanford, she applied to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA.) Ride was selected as one of NASA’s first six female astronauts, beating out thousands of applicants. She began spaceflight training in 1978. Her career began as part of the ground support crew for the second (STS-2) and third (STS-3) space shuttle Columbia flights serving as capsule communicator (CAPCOM.)
Ride experienced her first spaceflight as a mission specialist on NASA's seventh shuttle mission (STS-7) aboard the space shuttle Challenger. The mission launched on June 18, 1983, and returned to Earth on June 24. Tasks on the mission included launching communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia. The astronauts also conducted the first successful satellite deployment and retrieval in space using the shuttle's robotic arm.
Top: Ride training for STS-7 mission. Bottom: Ride on STS-7 flight deck. Credit: NASA
Sally Ride's history-making Challenger mission was not her only spaceflight. She also became the first American woman to travel to space a second time when she launched on another Challenger mission (STS-41-G) on October 5, 1984. After she left NASA in 1987, her passion for space and science continued. Ride joined Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. She later became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.
In 2001 along with her partner Tam O'Shaughnessy, she co-founded the nonprofit Sally Ride Science. The goal was to help educators encourage middle and high school students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) through courses, lectures, camps, and online programs. Ride wrote five science books for children and undertook many other projects to motivate young people toward the sciences. Sally Ride died on July 23, 2012 after suffering from pancreatic cancer.