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  • Sara Thompson

Blasting Off with Sally Ride

By Sara Thompson

Image credit is NASA

Special to the Enterprise


Sally Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. She was the oldest of two children born to her parents. In school she excelled at science and sports, especially tennis. By the end of high school, she knew she wanted to be an astrophysicist.


She began her college journey in Pennsylvania, but after a few semesters’ homesickness took over and she transferred to the University of California in Los Angeles. She continued to play collegiate tennis and won several championships and titles, however, decided that a professional career in tennis was not right for her. She instead turned to her other passion, science. She transferred to Stanford University her junior year. There she earned dual bachelor’s degrees in physics and English literature in 1973, her master’s in physics in 1975, and her PhD in 1978. Her areas of focus were astrophysics and free-electron lasers.


In 1977, Ride saw an article about NASA looking for applicants to begin training for the Space Shuttle program and had expanded their applicant pool to women. She applied and was a finalist of over 8000 applicants. After months of both aptitude and physical tests, she was selected part of Astronaut Group 8, and was one of six women in the group of 35 astronaut candidates.


She served as the ground capsule communicator for two Space Shuttle flights and developed a robot arm for performing tasks in space. In 1982, NASA announced that Ride was selected for the next space flight the following year. In June of 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and third in the world. During the six-day mission, the crew carried out ten experiments and Ride operated the robot arm she developed for tasks outside of the capsule.


As part of a test to see how quickly astronauts could be turned around on missions, Ride was selected for another mission the following year. In October 1984, Ride went back to space, but this time as not the only woman as this crew included astronaut Kathryn Sullivan. Again, Ride performed tasks with the robotic arm on the shuttle. This time around, she was able to move and manipulate the arm quicker and more precisely. Between her two missions, Ride had spent more than 343 hours in space, or over 14 days.


In 1987, Ride left NASA and became professor of physics at UC San Diego in 1989 and director of the Cal Space Institute. Through the 90s and early 2000s she worked at UCSD and led several public outreach programs for NASA. She also co-wrote several children’s books about space with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessey. In 2011, after becoming ill and fatigued from delivering a speech, Ride saw a doctor and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She underwent treatments and surgeries, however, she passed at home in July 2012.


Her legacy earned her several awards and recognitions, including the Braun Award, Lindbergh Eagle Awards, Astronaut Hall of Fame, National Women’s Hall of Fame, National Aviation Hall of Fame, and more. She even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, posthumously, and which was accepted by O’Shaughnessey. Her hard work, perseverance, and inquisitive nature helped her become the icon we know today and she continues to inspire others.


Explorit's coming events:


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