Women in Transportation History: Sally Ride, America’s First Woman Astronaut

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly into outer space. (Two female USSR cosmonauts, Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, had already traveled into orbit.) Ride, who was 32 at the time of her first space flight, also established a still-intact record as the youngest U.S. astronaut to make such a journey. In addition, she has the distinction of being the first known LGBT astronaut.

Ride was born in Los Angeles in 1951. She graduated from Stanford University with a bachelor of science in physics and a bachelor of arts in English, and then earned both a master’s degree and doctorate in physics from the the university. Ride’s career as an astronaut took shape when she was one of approximately 8,000 people to apply to NASA in response to an advertisement in the Stanford University student newspaper seeking candidates for the agency. In 1978, she was accepted into NASA’s astronaut program.

Ride made her inaugural space flight as a member of the five-person crew on the second mission for the Space Shuttle Challenger. This mission lasted just over six days and included circumnavigating the Earth in orbit a total of 97 times. In 1984, Ride made her second space flight. This mission, which was also on board Space Shuttle Challenger, lasted more than eight days. Kathryn D. Sullivan was another member of the seven-person crew, making this space flight the first one to include two female astronauts.

“The view of Earth is spectacular,” recalled Ride in a 1998 interview with Scholastic Corporation about her time in outer space. “We can see cities during the day and at night, and we can watch rivers dump sediment into the ocean, and see hurricanes form.”

After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted a great deal of her time and energies to promoting careers in science for young people and in particular female students. She was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model,” stated President Barack Obama at the time of her death in 2012. “Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come.”

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