Rediscover STEAM
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Rediscover STEAM

Sally Ride, First American Woman & Lesbian Astronaut in Space

Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California, on May 26, 1951 to a political science professor and a counselor in a womens’ prison. he attended Stanford University and received her Bachelor’s degrees in both Physics and English in 1973 then went on to earn a M.Sc and a Ph.D in Physics, specializing in astrophysics research. Interestingly, she considered becoming a professional tennis player before college and was nationally ranked.

When NASA began recruiting women astronauts in 1977, she answered their newspaper ad and was one of six applicants hired. Ride moved to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas to prepare to become an astronaut, undergoing extensive training before becoming a capsule communicator at ground control.

In 1983, she was the first American woman to fly in space, traveling aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, making history as a Mission Specialist. It was later revealed in her obituary that Ride was lesbian, making her the first lesbian astronaut and first lesbian in space too. Ride reportedly said that it was the most fun she had ever had. She was scheduled to go on a third mission when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded in 1986, killing all of the crew members on board. She went on to serve on Reagan’s Presidential Commission investigating the accident.

Sally Ride retired from NASA in 1987 and taught at the University of California in San Diego. She later became Director of the California Space Institute, a research unit of the University of California specializing in engineering and space sciences that was established in 1980. She also created Sally Ride Science, an educational program to inspire girls and young women to pursue science and math. Although the gender gap in STEM exists today, it was a larger divide in the 1980s and 1990s. The Sally Ride Science program was influential and groundbreaking. Ride also worked tirelessly on the NASA EarthKAM project, enabling middle school students to use cameras on the International Space Station to take pictures to study, an initiative that introduced many young children to space.

She also wrote Mission Planet Earth and Exploring our Solar System, two books for young children to explore the universe. Her passion to empower young children in STEM and introduce them to space is honored by two elementary schools that bear her name. She even had a Barbie doll created in her likeness in 2019! Mattel, Inc. said that “Sally Ride was the first American woman, and the youngest American, to fly in space. Her adventurous nature, quest for discovery and pioneering accomplishments inspire girls everywhere to boldly reach for the stars.” Ride was also commemorated with a new series of quarters from the U.S. Mint.

Other honors she received were the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, and a place in the National Women’s Hall of Fame and Astronaut Hall of Fame. She died on July 23, 2012 from pancreatic cancer, leaving an incredible legacy as the astronaut who broke the glass ceiling for women and LGBTQIA+ individuals in space.

by Daisy O’Connor

References

“Who Was Sally Ride?,” NASA, 2014, https://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/k-4/stories/nasa-knows/who-was-sally-ride-k4.html

“Sally Ride,” Biography, 2021, https://www.biography.com/astronaut/sally-ride

“Barbie hails astronaut Sally Ride with new ‘Inspiring Women’ doll,” collect SPACE, 2019, http://www.collectspace.com/news/news-082619a-astronaut-sally-ride-barbie-doll.html

Boyle, Alan. “Why Sally Ride waited until her death to tell the world she was gay,” NBC, 2012, https://www.nbcnews.com/sciencemain/why-sally-ride-waited-until-her-death-tell-world-she-908942

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