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Sally Ride

Sally Ride was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s she had a great interest in sports and was a talented athlete. She and her father had a strong love of baseball and were both avid LA Dodgers fans. She even had a childhood dream of one day playing professional baseball for her favorite team. 

 

As she got older, she took up tennis, at which she excelled and after high school she even briefly pursued a career as a professional tennis player until she decided to go back to school. She attended Stanford University where she studied Science and English and eventually obtained her Masters and PhD in Physics. 

 

Her athletic abilities combined with her training as a physicist positioned her well to obtain employment with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1978 where she was one of only 5 women selected that year as a mission specialist. Here, she began working for mission control and became the first female voice of the CAPCOM system, which was the primary means by which mission control communicated with the shuttle crews.

 

After a few years at NASA, an exciting opportunity was presented when she was selected as one of 5 crew members for a 1983 mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger, becoming the first female astronaut in the United States as well as the youngest. Although private and more introverted in nature, she became a celebrity across the country and was featured in numerous interviews and editorials seeking her input and perspective as a woman in space. As a result, she had to field a number of sexist and biased questions from journalists; questions that would never be asked of a male counterpart. However, she reported nothing but respect and support among her fellow crew members and team. While serving on the space shuttle, she was responsible for deploying satellites, conducting various experiments, and operating the space shuttle’s robotic arm. She went on to serve one additional mission aboard the space shuttle in 1984. 

 

Following the tragic Challenger explosion in 1986, which killed all seven crew members (some of whom Ride had served with on previous missions), the Rogers Commission was assembled to investigate the causes. Sally Ride served on the commission along with 13 others and was instrumental in discovering that the cause of the disaster was the O-ring gaskets in the rocket boosters which were made weak by the cold weather on the day of the launch. It was further discovered that NASA officials as well as their contractors, Morton Thiokol, knew the risks of launching during cold weather but decided to move forward with the launch regardless.


Following her time with NASA, Ride became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. She was dedicated to teaching others about science, astronomy, and space flight and went on to publish a number of children's science books with her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy. Ride and O’Shaughnessy also co-founded the organization Sally Ride Science in order to foster equity and inclusion in the sciences, especially among girls.