We often ask children the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” We are fortunate to live in a day and age where women can be nearly anything they want to be professionally speaking. However, there was a time not so long ago when this was not the case. Believe it or not, the first woman astronaut in history was not in space until 1983. Her name was Sally Kristen Ride and this is her story.
From a young age, Sally demonstrated an interest in both science and athletics, both key components of being a successful astronaut. Sally procured a partial scholarship to the private school she attended through her skills in the sport of Tennis, which she played avidly until college, She attended Stanford University and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Physics, followed by a Master’s degree and then a Doctorate degree in Physics. After college Sally applied to NASA in the year 1978 and was chosen among five others out of thousands of applicants to be one of the first female astronaut trainees.
Before officially becoming an astronaut, Sally was employed in the field of aeronautics as a capsule communicator assisting other astronauts on space flights in the shuttle. Shortly thereafter, in 1982, Sally joined her associates on the shuttle flight where she helped launch communication satellites and operated the shuttles robotic arm (as the first woman astronaut to ever do so). In all, Sally was chosen for three separate space shuttle flights in her career with NASA. Unfortunately, the Challenger incident in 1986 interrupted her third mission and she was unable to attend. Instead of being discouraged by this setback, Sally turned it into an opportunity and served on the NASA accident investigation board for the Challenger disaster as well as another unsuccessful shuttle launch in 2003, the Columbia.
Sally eventually retired from NASA, but her passion for science and space never dwindled. Sally went back to Stanford University, this time as an International Security and Arms Control officer. She then went to the University of San Diego, where she enjoyed a career as a physics professor. After these careers, Sally decided to co-found an organization to help students achieve science-related careers later in life with a focus on female students. One notable project of her organization, the MoonKam program allowed students to shoot and select their own lunar photographs from an orbiting gravity probe.
Later in life, Sally wrote children’s books about science-related subjects including “The Mystery of Mars”, “Exploring Our Solar System.”, “To Space and Back”, “The Third Planet” and “Voyager”. At the age of only 61, Sally lost a battle to pancreatic cancer which she had been fighting for 17 months. Despite her short life that ended too soon, Sally experienced a great deal and offered much to the scientific community, She changed the gender expectations of professional scientific careers, inspired countless children, and never lost her love and fascination with science and space.