Childhood & Early Life
Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California to Dale Burdell Ride, a political science professor and Carol Joyce Ride, a counsellor. She grew up in Encino, an affluent neighbourhood in the San Fernando Valley.
From a very young age, she took interest in both science and sports, which her parents encouraged. She studied in Portola Junior High School, where she earned a tennis scholarship to ‘Westlake School for Girls’. She played in a lot of junior tennis tournaments at the national level.
She joined the ‘Swarthmore College’ in Pennsylvania. After three semesters, she quit the college to pursue a professional tennis career. However, after 3 months of rigorous training, she decided to return to academics and joined ‘Stanford University’ in ‘Palo Alto’, California.
In 1973, she received a ‘Bachelor of Science’ degree in Physics and a ‘Bachelor of Arts’ degree in English. Two years later, she also obtained a ‘Master of Science’ degree at Stanford itself, after which she began to pursue her doctorate.
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In 1977, in response to a newspaper advertisement, Ride applied for NASA’s space program. The next year, she became one of the 35 applicants selected for the program out of the 8000 who had applied.
From 1978 to 1979, she underwent a demanding training which included parachute jumping, water survival, gravity and weightlessness training, radio communications, navigation and flight instruction.
After completing her training, she worked as an ‘on-orbit capsule communicator’ for the second and third shuttle flights, ‘STS-2’ and ‘STS-3’ respectively. She was also a part of the team that fabricated the mechanical robot arm.
In 1983, Ride was selected as the ‘Mission Specialist’ for the seventh shuttle flight, ‘STS-7’, aboard the ‘Challenger’ space shuttle. Ride created history by becoming the first American woman and third overall, to travel to space as an astronaut. The six-day mission generated much media attention due to Ride’s presence.
She went on another space flight in 1984, again on the ‘Challenger’ space shuttle. This mission lasted for nine days and had a larger crew of seven members.
She was scheduled to go on her third space flight in 1986, and was undergoing training for it. However, in January that year, the ‘Challenger’ exploded just after take-off, resulting in the tragic deaths of all seven crew members aboard, some of whom were Ride’s friends. Consequently, Ride’s next space flight was cancelled.
NASA appointed a ‘Presidential Commission’ to investigate the accident and Ride headed the Commission’s Subcommittee on Operations.
After the investigation, she was allocated the post of Special Assistant to the Administrator for long range & strategic planning at NASA headquarters in Washington D.C.
In her new role, Ride headed the first strategic planning effort by NASA, prepared a report titled ‘Leadership and America's Future in Space’ and assumed the role of director of NASA's ‘Office of Exploration’, which she helped set up.
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In 1987, she retired from NASA and joined Stanford University as a Science Fellow at the ‘Center for International Security & Arms Control’. She worked in this role for about two years.
In 1989, she joined the University of California in San Diego as a professor of physics, and was simultaneously appointed as ‘Director of the California Space Institute’. Here, she conducted research on the theory of non-linear beam-wave interactions.
In 1996, she headed ISS EarthKAM, a public-outreach program by NASA which would enable students to access photographs of earth captured from the ‘Space Shuttle’ and the ‘International Space Station’. The program has been a great success.
From 1999 to 2000, she also worked with the internet company, ‘Space.com’ that deals with all aspects of the space industry.
In 2003, NASA suffered another calamity as the Space Shuttle ‘Columbia’ exploded while landing, causing the deaths of all its crew members. Ride, given her past experience, was appointed to the investigation board.
She co-wrote many books over the years. Five of those are science-oriented books for children, including the award-winning ‘The Third Planet: Exploring The Earth From Space’.
In 1983, when the ‘Challenger’ space shuttle took off, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel in space. This historic feat had far-reaching implications as she inspired many women to venture into a field which was previously open only to men.
She went on another space mission in 1984 with a different set of objectives, this time with a bigger crew. During the flight, Ride used the robotic arm to remove ice from the shuttle’s outer body and adjust an antenna.
In 2001, she founded ‘Sally Ride Science’, a company that makes engaging science-related classroom programs and publications for school students in USA, especially girls, and provides training for teachers. Ride even quit her job at ‘Stanford University’ to focus on her role as the CEO of this company.
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Awards & Achievements
In 1988, Sally Ride was inducted into the ‘National Women's Hall of Fame’, an American institution honouring outstanding contributions for the country in various fields.
In 1994, she was awarded the ‘Jefferson Award’, an honour awarded every year to individuals below the age of thirty-five.
She was inducted into the ‘Astronaut Hall of Fame’ at the ‘Kennedy Space Center in 2003.
In 2013, following her death, she was posthumously bestowed with the ‘Presidential Medal of Freedom’ by US President Barack Obama. The medal is the highest civilian award in the US.
Personal Life & Legacy
Sally Ride married another astronaut from NASA, Steve Hawley, in 1982. The marriage ended in divorce after five years.
In 2001, she founded the company ‘Sally Ride Science’, which has given a lot of direct and indirect support to young girls and women who want to pursue science.
She died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012.
Post her death, her obituary revealed that Ride was a lesbian, and had a partner for twenty-seven years, named Tam O'Shaughnessy.
In 2013, as a tribute to her, the US Navy declared that a research ship would be renamed after her.