On June 18, 1983, the orbiter space shuttle Challenger was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida. Among its five-person crew was
Sally Ride, a physicist, astronaut, and the very first American woman in space.
Dr. Ride sits in the aft flight deck mission specialist’s seat during deorbit preparations (x).
Sally was born in Los Angeles, California on May 26, 1951.
She was an eclectic student at her private high school, Westlake School for
Girls; she excelled in both science and English and was also a
nationally-ranked tennis player. She graduated from Stanford University with a
bachelor’s degree and then stayed on to receive her master’s and PhD in
Physics. It was while she was a student at Stanford when Sally first came
upon the newspaper ad that would change her life. In 1977, NASA published an ad in the
Stanford student newspaper seeking women interested in becoming astronauts.
Over 8,000 women applied, but only six were chosen and Sally was one of them.
In 2015, Sally’s partner Tam O’Shaughnessy published a photobiography of Sally’s life which included never-before-photos of her childhood (x).
After being accepted by NASA, she worked for over two years
as a ground-based capsule communicator and specialized in developing the
program’s “Canadarm” robot arm. The greater public was only introduced to Sally Ride when it was announced that she would be joining the Challenger team. Sally was
subject to an unforgettable amount of misogyny by the media, with journalists
asking her now infamous questions like “"Will the flight affect your
reproductive organs?“ and “Do you weep when things go wrong on the
job?” but through it all, she stayed resilient and never let the frenzy of
attention affect her. On the 1983 space mission, Sally operated the crew’s
robotic arm and managed the communication satellites. She would partake in
another mission aboard Challenger in
1984 before retiring from NASA in 1987.
Ride (left) with partner O’Shaughnessy and their dog Gypsy, 1985 (x).
Despite the public clamoring for information and personal
details about this new feminist icon, Sally was notoriously silent about her
private life. It was only after her death on July 23, 2012 that it was revealed
that she was a lesbian and had been together with her partner, Tam
O’Shaughnessy, for over 27 years. For years after Sally left NASA, she and Tam
co-wrote children’s science books and operated the Board of Sally Ride Science
together, which focused on encouraging young girls in STEM fields. Today, Sally
is considered to be not only the first American woman astronaut, but also the
very first LGBT person to ever go into space.