She responded to an ad in a student newspaper, seeking astronauts for NASA missions. That is where the incredible journey of Astronaut, Sally Kristen Ride, began. After growing up in Encino, California with a strong love of science, Sally was in the process of completing her Ph.D in physics at Stanford University when she came across the ad. The year was 1977, it was also the year the NASA first started accepting women into the space program. Sally’s application was just 1 in 8,000 others. Out of that large group of applicants, thirty-five candidates, six of whom were women, were chosen to join the astronaut corps.
Following a year of training (parachute jumping, navigation, water survival- like being an astronaut wasn’t cool enough already, eh?!) and evaluations, Sally became eligible for assignment as an astronaut on a space shuttle flight crew. On June 18, 1983, the Challenger shuttle lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida with Sally Ride aboard as Mission Specialist. Sally made history that day as the First American Woman in Space. She was just 32 years old. As if her legendary moment couldn’t get any better, feminist icons Jane Fonda and Gloria Steinem were in attendance at the Kennedy Space Center, sporting shirts that read “Ride, Sally Ride” in reference to the hit pop song by Lou Reed.
Sally went into space once more in October of 1984 before becoming the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration (and the coolness continues). After retiring from NASA in 1987, Sally went on to teach at the University of California San Diego, was a faculty member at Stanford and director of the California Space Institute. She started her own company, Sally Ride Science, in her quest to continue motivating young boys and girls to pursue careers in math, science, engineering and technology. She also co-wrote seven science books for children.
The list of awards that Sally has collected throughout her life would put Celine Dion or The Rolling Stones to shame. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was twice awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal. And in 2012, Sally was honored with the National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award.
Sally Ride lost her 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012. She passed away in her San Diego home at the age of 61. Sally followed her curiosity, trusted her instincts, broke barriers, pursued her dreams and inspired others to literally, reach for the stars. History is made by those who are brave enough to lead, into a future that is completely unknown. Since Sally’s history-making launch into space, 42 other American women have followed in her footsteps. We tip our hats to you, Sally. Thank you for making your ride, such an incredible one to watch.
Sally Kristen Ride, Ph.D 1951 – 2012