Sally Ride was the first US woman in space, and inspired countless young people to “reach for the stars”.
Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Ride showed an interest in science from a young age. She graduated from Stanford with a degree in English and physics, and went on to earn both a masters and a PhD from the college, specialising in astrophysics and free electron lasers.
In 1978, at the age of 27, Ride was selected to work at NASA, having answered an advertisement in the Stanford student paper calling for applicants to the space program. In June 1983, she became the first American woman, and the youngest ever American, to travel into space.
She achieved the feat of spaceflight again in 1984, and was training for her third mission when the Challenger disaster occurred, killing all seven crewmembers on board. Ride was assigned to work on the commission investigating the cause of the disaster – a position she would have to take up again in 2003, following the Columbia disaster.
In 1987, Ride left NASA and shortly after, became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. In the years that followed, she continued to work on public outreach programs for NASA.
Outreach became a major part of Ride’s later career, and she worked tirelessly to inspire others with a curiosity for science. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science: a non-profit organisation that seeks to engage young people with STEM.
Alongside her life-partner, Tam Shaughnessy, Ride ran her non-profit and authored several children books focussed on science and space.
In 2012, Ride died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61, but her memory lives on. In 2013, she was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, and in 2017, she was immortalised as one of four females included in the ‘Women of NASA’ Lego set. Ride will be remembered as one of the icons of space exploration, and for inspiring young people around the world.
Last updated: 21 February 2018