On June 18, 1983, Dr. Sally Ride was strapped into the Space Shuttle Challenger as it rocked and shook, blasting out of earth’s atmosphere and into the great, empty expanse of space. And in that moment, she became the first American woman to have ever left the planet earth.
Sally Ride hailed from Encino, CA, and though her parents were not scientists themselves, she credits them for instilling a reverence and passion for science within herself as she grew up. She would go on to study at Stanford, receiving bachelor’s degrees in both English and physics. From there, she stayed at Stanford and earned a master’s degree and PhD in physics.
It wasn’t long before NASA hired her, as in the application process she had proved herself over thousands of others. She was on her way to becoming an astronaut — and if it seems like she was moving quickly up the ranks, that would be accurate. Not only would she become the first female American astronaut in space, but she was also the youngest American to have traveled beyond our atmosphere. She still holds that title today, as she was 32 years old on June 18, 1983.
The mission was six days and two hours long, and they were tasked with deploying several satellites into orbit. It went fairly well, without major incident. Some debris hit a window in space, but the damage was not deemed critical. A piece known as the “External Tank bipod ramp” was lost, which is significant as this same issue was later found to be the first of a series of events that caused the STS-107 (Space Shuttle Columbia) to disintegrate upon re-entry, tragically killing everyone on board in 2003.
However, the astronauts of STS-7 made it safely back into earth’s atmosphere and landed without issue on June 24, 1983.
She made a second flight in the Challenger in 1984, and it would be her last. When she was preparing for her third, the Challenger disaster happened (1986 explosion upon take-off, killing all astronauts on board) and Ride was asked to be a part of the investigatory commission.
Keeping an active life after her work at NASA, she was a professor of physics in San Diego, wrote and/or co-authored multiple books, and founded a non-profit aimed at producing entertainment for children that might foster a love and desire to pursue science, especially in girls. Despite her grand achievements, she led a relatively private life. She was married for a few years, but divorced later. It was later revealed that she had a long-time lover, another woman named Tam O’Shaughnessy.
Sally Ride was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, and she died on July 23, 2012.
Featured image: Dr. Sally K. Ride, left, watches as fellow crew members John M. Fabian and Frederick H. Hauck leave the Challenger after its landing, June 24, 1983. (AP Photo/Pool)