Sally K. Ride Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

An astronaut for the National Aeronautics and Space Agency (NASA) and the first American woman in space.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Encino, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. In 1968, she enrolled at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania as a physics major, but left after three semesters to concentrate on tennis after winning a national collegiate tennis tournament. After a few months, she reassessed her potential and decided against tennis as a professional career. She returned to her studies at Stanford University and completed an undergraduate program with a double major in physics and English. She continued her studies in physics at Stanford, earning a master’s degree. While completing work on a doctorate in astronomy and astrophysics at Stanford, she was attracted by NASA’s call for astronauts. In 1977, she entered astronaut training as a mission specialist with a group of thirty-five successful applicants, including six women. She completed her doctorate in 1978.

Shortly after earning her doctorate, Ride reported to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center outside Houston, Texas, to begin the intensive training required of mission specialists. As she worked her way toward a flight assignment, Ride worked on the design of the remote arm used on the space shuttle to deploy and retrieve satellites and was part of the ground team for the second and third flights of Columbia.

Ride’s chances at flight came in 1983 and in 1984 when she flew on Challenger for a total of more than 343 hours. The June 18, 1983, flight earned her the distinction of being the first American woman in space and the youngest person ever in orbit. While on these flights, Ride tested the remote arm and oversaw the onboard science experiments. Other scheduled flights were canceled after the explosion of the Challenger in 1986. Ride was the only astronaut to serve on the commission that investigated the explosion.

Ride retired from NASA in 1987 to join Stanford’s Center of International Security and Arms Control. In 1989, she became the director of the California Space Institute and professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. She later left academia to enter private business. She became interested in science education and, in 2000, resigned as president of, a World Wide Web site devoted to education and the space industry, to spend more time and effort promoting improvements in science education. Ride’s personal crusade is to encourage women to enter math and science disciplines.

  • Camp, Carole A. Sally Ride: First American Woman in Space. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 1977. A well-constructed biography written for young adults.
  • Ride, Sally K. Leadership and America’s Future in Space. Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1987. In this report of a government commission established following the Challenger explosion, Ride set forth principles to get NASA’s mission back on track.
  • Ride, Sally K., and Susan Okie. To Space and Back. New York: Morrow Avon, 1989. Written for a young audience, this book shares Ride’s personal experiences from her orbital flights.

Astronauts and cosmonauts

Crewed spaceflight

Johnson Space Center

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Space shuttle


“Vomit Comet”

Women and flight

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