Sally Kristen Ride, Ph.D.
1951 - 2012
Trailblazing First American Woman In Space

Sally Ride

Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, cofounded Sally Ride Science in 2001 along with Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy, Dr. Karen Flammer, and two like-minded friends to inspire young people in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and to promote STEM literacy. Their goal is to motivate more students—especially girls and minorities—to stick with STEM as they go through school. Sally served as CEO of the company until her death on July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sally was finishing her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University in 1977 when she saw an article in the student newspaper saying that NASA was seeking astronaut candidates, and that for the first time, women could apply. When she blasted off aboard the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman—and, at 32, the youngest American—in space. Sally's historic flight made her a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. She flew on Challenger again in 1984 and later was the only person to serve on both panels investigating the nation's space shuttle disasters—the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the breakup of the shuttle Columbia on reentry in 2003.

After retiring from NASA, Sally became a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego. She also joined with O'Shaughnessy to write award-winning science books for children. Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she cared about passionately—igniting students' enthusiasm for science and piquing their interest in careers in STEM. She cofounded Sally Ride Science to help achieve that goal. In 2015, UC San Diego acquired Sally Ride Science and created a new nonprofit organization, Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego. O’Shaughnessy is the executive director and Flammer is the director of education.


Sally was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles, California, and she spent her childhood there. As a young girl, Sally was fascinated by science. She credited her parents with encouraging her interests. Sally grew up playing with a chemistry set and a telescope. She also grew up playing sports. She competed in national junior tennis tournaments and was good enough to win a tennis scholarship to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.


In 1977, Sally already had degrees in physics and English from Stanford University and was about to finish her Ph.D. in physics when she saw an article in the Stanford student newspaper saying that NASA was looking for astronauts. Up until then, most astronauts had been military pilots—and they all had been male. But now NASA was looking for scientists and engineers and was allowing women to apply. Sally immediately sent in her application—along with 8,000 other people. From that group, 35 new astronauts, including six women, were chosen to join the astronaut corps. NASA selected Sally as an astronaut candidate in January 1978.


Sally’s astronaut training included parachute jumping, water survival, weightlessness, radio communications, and navigation. She enjoyed flight training so much that flying became one of her hobbies. During the second and third flights of the space shuttle Columbia, she worked on the ground as a communications officer, relaying messages from mission control to the shuttle crews. She was part of the team that developed the robot arm used by shuttle crews to deploy and retrieve satellites.

STS 7 Patch
STS 41-G Patch


In August 1979, after a yearlong training and evaluation period, Sally became eligible for assignment as an astronaut on a space shuttle flight crew. Then on April 19, 1982, NASA’s flight crew director summoned Sally into his office and told her she had been selected as a mission specialist for mission STS-7 aboard the shuttle Challenger. When Challenger blasted off from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on June 18, 1983, Sally soared into history as the first American woman in space.

Accompanying Sally aboard Challenger were Captain Robert L. Crippen, the spacecraft commander; Captain Fredrick H. Hauck, the pilot; and fellow mission specialists Colonel John M. Fabian and Dr. Norman E. Thagard. This was the second flight for the orbiter Challenger and the first mission with a five-person crew. During the mission, the crew deployed satellites for Canada (ANIK C-2) and Indonesia (PALAPA B-1); operated the Canadian-built robot arm to perform the first deployment and retrieval with the Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-01); conducted the first formation flying of the shuttle with a free-flying satellite (SPAS-01); carried and operated the first U.S./German cooperative materials science payload (OSTA-2); and operated the Continuous Flow Electrophoresis System (CFES) and the Monodisperse Latex Reactor (MLR) experiments. The crew also activated seven Getaway Specials—small experiments sent into space by private individuals or groups. The mission lasted 147 hours before Challenger landed on a lakebed runway at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on June 24.

"The thing that I’ll remember most about the flight is that it was fun," said Sally. “In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun I’ll ever have in my life.”

Sally’s second flight was the 13th shuttle flight, STS 41-G, which launched from Kennedy Space Center on October 5, 1984. The crew of seven—the largest to date for a shuttle mission—included Crippen as commander, Captain Jon A. McBride as the pilot, fellow mission specialists Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan and Commander David C. Leestma, and two payloads specialists, Commander Marc Garneau and Paul Scully-Power. During the 8-day mission, the crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and conducted scientific observations of the Earth with the OSTS-3 pallet and Large Format Camera, as well as demonstrating potential satellite refueling with an EVA and associated hydrazine transfer. After 197 hours in flight, Challenger landed at Kennedy Space Center on October 13.

In June 1985, Sally was assigned to the crew of STS 61-M, but mission training was halted in January 1986 after the Challenger exploded shortly after takeoff, killing all seven crewmembers. Sally served on the presidential commission investigating the tragedy. After the investigation was completed, she was assigned to NASA headquarters as special assistant to the administrator for long-range and strategic planning. There she wrote an influential report entitled “Leadership and America’s Future in Space,” and became the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration.


Sally and President Obama

Sally retired from NASA in 1987. She became a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. In 1989, Sally joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute.

Long an advocate for improved science education, Sally co-wrote seven science books for children—To Space and Back (with Sue Okie); and Voyager; The Third Planet; The Mystery of Mars; Exploring Our Solar System; Mission Planet Earth; and Mission Save the Planet (all with Tam O’Shaughnessy). Sally also initiated and directed NASA-funded education programs designed to fuel middle school students’ fascination with science, including Sally Ride EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM.

Sally was a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board, and she served on the boards of the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the NCAA Foundation. Sally was a fellow of the American Physical Society and a member of the Pacific Council on International Policy, and she served on the boards of the Aerospace Corporation and the California Institute of Technology.

Sally received numerous honors and awards. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was twice awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal. In 2012 Sally was honored with the National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award.

In November 2013, Sally was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in a White House ceremony where O'Shaughnessy—her life partner and co-founder of Sally Ride Science—accepted the medal on her behalf. Also attending the ceremony were Sally’s mother, Joyce Ride, and sister, Bear Ride. Other 2013 medal recipients included President Bill Clinton, Gloria Steinem, and Oprah Winfrey.

The Sally Ride Forever stamp was unveiled at UC San Diego on May 23, 2018.

Sally’s life and work continue to be recognized with other posthumous honors. Sally and another pioneering astronaut, Neil Armstrong, received The Space Foundation’s 2013 General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award for their contributions to space exploration. Also in 2013, the Stanford School of Engineering named Sally a Stanford Engineering Hero, an honor bestowed on Stanford scientists who have benefited humanity through engineering and science. In 2014, Women in Aviation, International (WAI) inducted Sally into its International Pioneer Hall of Fame.

Ray Mabus, then secretary of the Navy, announced in 2013 that a state-of-the-art research vessel would be named in Sally’s honor. The 238-foot R/V Sally Ride, owned by the Navy and operated by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, was commissioned in 2016. The Sally Ride is a Neil Armstrong-class auxiliary general oceanographic research (AGOR) ship. It is the first Navy research ship named for a woman.

In 2018, the U.S. Postal Service unveiled a Forever stamp honoring Sally. And in 2019, Stanford University renamed a student housing complex Sally Ride House.