This summer, America lost one of its space pioneers, Sally Ride. In 1983 she blazed a cosmic trail for gender equity and became the first American woman in space. Since then, 42 other American women have followed in her footsteps.
Ride never dreamed of becoming an astronaut when she was growing up in California. She was a talented athlete and hoped to play professional tennis. After deciding against a career in pro sports, she enrolled at Stanford University and graduated in 1973 with a degree in physics and English. She continued her studies and earned a Ph.D. in astrophysics.
In 1977, she saw an ad in the university paper that changed her life. NASA was recruiting scientists to serve as mission specialists on shuttle flights. In the past, only military and civilian test pilots were recruited to the astronaut corps. With a new era of space travel about to begin, scientists and technicians were needed to monitor the complex technology of the space shuttle.
In 1978, after a long evaluation process, Ride was accepted into the program. Throughout the next five years, she underwent extensive training before her historic flight on June 18, 1983. Ride made history during the six-day Challenger mission, STS-7, when she became the first woman to use the robot arm in space and the first to use the arm to retrieve a satellite. She also served as a mission specialist and flight engineer.
Ride went back into space on STS-41-G in 1984 and then served on the presidential commission investigating the 1986 Challenger accident.
After retiring from NASA in 1987, she wrote five science books for children with hopes of encouraging them to study science. She was also the co-founder of Sally Ride Science, an innovative science education company dedicated to igniting students' interests in science, technology, engineering and math.