Sally Ride Day is celebrated on May 26th of each year in honor of America’s first woman astronaut. Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) was an American physicist and astronaut. Ride joined NASA in 1978 and at the age of 32, became the first American woman to enter into low Earth orbit in 1983. She left NASA in 1987 to work at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control and had served on the investigation panels for two space shuttle disasters (Challenger and Columbia)—the only person to serve on both. She founded a company, Sally Ride Science, in 2001. She co-authored five children’s science books with her life partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, as well as another dozen or so space-related titles. Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to be launched into space.
Ride was one of 8,000 people to answer an advertisement in a newspaper seeking applicants for the space program. As a result, she joined NASA in 1978. During her career, Ride served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third Space Shuttle flights (STS-2 and STS-3) and helped develop the Space Shuttle’s 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 like “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. The five-person crew of the STS-7 mission deployed two communications satellites and conducted pharmaceutical experiments. Ride was the first woman to use the robot arm in space and the first to use the arm to retrieve a satellite.
Her second space flight was in 1984, also on board the Challenger. She spent a total of more than 343 hours in space. Ride, who had completed eight months of training for her third flight (STS-61-M, a TDRS deployment mission) when the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster occurred, 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, DC, where she led NASA’s first strategic planning effort, authored a report entitled “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space”, and founded NASA’s Office of Exploration.