Sally Kristen Ride was born in Los Angeles in May 26, 1951 – died of pancreatic cancer July 23, 2012. She was an American physicist and astronaut. Ride attended Stanford University as a junior, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in English and physics. At Stanford, she earned a master’s degree in 1975 and a PhD in physics in 1978 while doing research on the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium. Astrophysics and free electron lasers were her specific areas of study.
Ride was chosen to join NASA in 1978. During her career, Ride served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third space shuttle flights and helped develop the space shuttle’s “Canadarm” robot arm. Prior to her first space flight, she was subject to media attention due to her gender. During a press conference, she was asked questions such as, “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” and “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” Despite this and the historical significance of the mission, Ride insisted that she saw herself in only one way—as an astronaut. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space as a crew member on space shuttle Challenger for STS-7. She was preceded by two Soviet women, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32.
Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. She spent a total of more than 343 hours in space. Ride had completed eight months of training for her third flight when the space shuttle Challenger disaster occurred. She was named to the Rogers Commission (the presidential commission investigating the accident) and headed its subcommittee on operations. Following the investigation, Ride was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she led NASA’s first strategic planning effort, authored a report titled “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space” and founded NASA’s Office of Exploration. After Sally Ride’s death in 2012, General Donald Kutyna revealed that she had discreetly provided him with key information about O-rings (namely, that they become stiff at low temperatures) that eventually led to identification of the cause of the explosion. According to Roger Boisjoly, the engineer who warned of the technical problems that led to the Challenger disaster, after the entire workforce of Morton-Thiokol shunned him Ride was the only public figure to show support for him when he went public with his pre-disaster warnings.
After flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, in 1987, Ride left her NASA position in Washington, D.C., to work at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989, she became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the California Space Institute. From the mid-1990s until her death, Ride led two public-outreach programs for NASA—the ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM projects, in cooperation with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCSD. The programs allowed middle school students to request images of the Earth and moon. In 2003, she was asked to serve on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, she was the only person to participate in both of the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters.
Ride was extremely private about her personal life. In 1982, she married fellow NASA astronaut Steve Hawley. They divorced in 1987. After Ride’s death, her obituary revealed that her partner of 27 years was Tam O’Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University and childhood friend, who met her when both were aspiring tennis players. O’Shaughnessy was also a science writer and, later, the co-founder of Sally Ride Science. O’Shaughnessy now serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Sally Ride Science. They wrote six acclaimed children’s science books together. Their relationship was revealed by the company and confirmed by her sister, who said she chose to keep her personal life private, including her sickness and treatments. She is the first known queer astronaut.
Ride also received numerous awards, I won’t list them all but you can see them on the Wiki page for her. I know this post is a lot longer than most of my other ones, but I felt she deserves a longer one. Thanks for reading, see you tomorrow.