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Breaking gender expectations to become the first US woman in space, Dr. Sally Ride was an accomplished physicist and acclaimed astronaut.

Sally Ride: The First US Woman in Space Make Your Own

Sally Ride

The first US woman in space, and the first known LGBT astronaut, Sally Ride was born in 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her father was an academic, lecturing in political science, and her mother was a women’s counsellor working in the prison system. Ride graduated in English and Physics from Stanford University and went on to earn a PhD in Physics.

Beating competition from 1000s of applicants, Dr. Ride was selected as one of the first six female astronauts at NASA and started her space career as a capsule coordinator, working as part of the ground support crew for space shuttle flights. In 1983, Dr. Ride became the first US female in space when she joined the crew of the Challenger space shuttle. Dr. Ride flew again on a space shuttle flight in 1984.

Dr. Ride broke gender barriers and continues to be a role model for women and girls, who are still underrepresented in STEM subjects. Much of the media attention at the time of Dr. Ride’s first space flight focused on her gender, with reporters asking questions about make-up, underwear and toilet arrangements instead of her role as a member of the crew.

Dr. Ride was widely recognized for her work and contributions to science and space exploration. Her accolades included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award and she was inducted to both the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Following her NASA career, Dr. Ride worked as a professor of physics and co-founded the Sally Ride Science non-profit organization, with the aim of inspiring young people to learn more about STEM subjects and her various outreach programs have inspired countless girls to enter careers that have traditionally regarded as the domain of men.

Following her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barak Obama, the highest civilian award in the USA. Dr. Ride’s legacy continues to inspire girls. When she joined NASA, she was one of only six female astronauts. Today, a third of NASA’s employees are female and in 2016, NASA selected its first gender-equal class of new astronauts.

Sally Ride Accomplishments

  • Broke gender stereotypes and continues to inspire girls to pursue STEM careers.
  • First US woman in space.
  • Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the USA.

Sally Ride Quotes

“I think it’s important for little girls growing up, and young women to have one in every walk of life. So from that point of view, I’m proud to be a role model.”

“The stars don’t look bigger, but they do look brighter.”

“I didn’t succumb to the stereotype that science wasn’t for girls.”

Learn more about people who have influenced history in our Picture Encyclopedia!
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