What a momentous day for women in flight history! Amealia Erhart was the first woman to cross the Atlantic by plane (she was a passenger) this day in history. However, today we are going to learn about Sally Ride as the first American woman in space and her career at NASA and beyond.
A native of Los Angeles, Ride graduated from high school there in 1968 and enrolled at Stanford University. At Stanford, she earned four degrees, including a doctorate in physics in 1978. She also was an accomplished athlete who played varsity tennis at Stanford after being nationally ranked as a youth, and a brief stint as a professional tennis player.
Ride joined NASA as part of the 1978 astronaut class, the first to include women. She and five other women, along with 29 men, were selected out of 8,000 applicants. The class became known as the "Thirty-Five New Guys" and reported to the Johnson Space Center the next summer to begin training. Ride trained for five years before she and three of her classmates were assigned to STS-7.
The STS-7 launched June 18, 1983, making Sally Ride, age 32, the first American woman in space (only behind Russia's first female by 20 years) and the youngest American in space. The six-day mission deployed two communications satellites (the first successful satellite deployment and retrieval in space using the shuttle's robotic arm) and performed a number of science experiments. During the flight, Ride became the first woman to operate the shuttle's robotic arm.
Following her historic flight, Sally Ride returned to space on her second shuttle mission, STS-41G on October 5, 1984. The 8-day mission deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, conducted scientific observations of Earth, and demonstrated potential satellite refueling techniques. She was assigned to a third flight, but due to the Challenger tragedy with teacher Christa McAuliffe on board Ride transitioned to a role on the Rogers Commission that investigated the Challenger loss in January 1986. When the investigation was completed, she accepted a job as a special assistant to the NASA administrator for long range and strategic planning.
Ride retired from NASA after 9 years of service in 1987 to join the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, as a professor of physics and director of the University of California's California Space Institute. In 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.
Ride received numerous honors and awards during the course of her career. Most notably, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was also posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. Ride also wrote five science-related children's books: "To Space and Back"; "Voyager"; "The Third Planet"; "The Mystery of Mars"; and "Exploring Our Solar System."