Sally Ride

Sally Ride (1951-2012) was an American physicist, astronaut, the first American woman in space, the youngest American in space (at the age of 32), and the first known LGBT astronaut. She grew up in Los Angeles, where she received a scholarship and graduated from the private school Westlake School for Girls in 1968. She attended Swarthmore and University of California LA before attending Stanford University and graduating with a BA in English and Physics (1973), a Master of Science (1975), and a PhD in Physics (1978). She focused on astrophysics, free electron lasers, and the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium. While at Stanford, she answered an ad in the student newspaper, along with 8,000 others: in 1978 she was one of six women selected to join NASA’s space program. She served as the ground-based capsule communicator for the second and third space shuttle flights. On June 18, 1983, aboard the space shuttle Challenger, she became the first American woman in space, and the third woman in space. After she helped to develop the robotic “Canadarm”, she was the first to use the it in space, and used it to retrieve a satellite. She logged more than 343 hours in space, and was preparing for her third Challenger mission when the Challenger disaster occurred. She was then assigned to the Rogers Commission which investigated the accident, and is credited with ascertaining that the O-rings’ rigidity at low temperatures led to the cause of the explosion. She was assigned to NASA Headquarters as Special Assistant to the Administrator for long-range and strategic planning. In 1987, she left NASA to work for Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989 she left to become the professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego, and director of the California Space Institute. She started NASA’s EarthKAM program, which enabled middle school students to take photos of Earth and our moon using the camera on the International Space Station. She then co-founded Sally Ride Science, which created science programs and publications for children, specifically girls, and encouraged them to pursue careers in STEM. She co-wrote children’s science books with her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, whom she had met when they were aspiring tennis players in college. She was added to the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003. She died in 2012, at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer.