Sally Kristen Ride
May 26, 1951
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
|Died||July 23, 2012 (aged 61)|
San Diego, California, U.S.
|Education||Stanford University (BA, BS, MS, PhD)|
(m. 1982; div. 1987)
|Partner(s)||Tam O'Shaughnessy (1985–2012; Ride's death)|
Time in space
|14d 07h 46m|
|Selection||1978 NASA Group|
|Retirement||August 15, 1987|
Sally Kristen Ride (May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012) was an American astronaut and physicist. Born in Los Angeles, she joined NASA in 1978, and in 1983 became the first American woman and the third woman in space, after cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. She was the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After flying two missions on the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride left NASA in 1987.
Ride worked for two years at Stanford University's Center for International Security and Arms Control, then at the University of California, San Diego, primarily researching nonlinear optics and Thomson scattering. She served on the committees that investigated the Challenger and Columbia Space Shuttle disasters, the only person to participate in both. Having been married to astronaut Steven Hawley during her spaceflight years and in a private, long-term relationship with former Women's Tennis Association player Tam O'Shaughnessy, she is the first space traveler known to have been LGBT. Ride died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012.
Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles, California,: 6 the elder child of Dale Burdell Ride and Carol Joyce Ride née Anderson.: 4–6 She had one sibling, Karen, known as "Bear".: 7–8  Both parents were elders in the Presbyterian Church. Her mother, who was of Norwegian descent, had worked as a volunteer counselor at a women's correctional facility. Her father served with the U.S. Army in Europe with the 103rd Infantry Division during World War II. After the war he had gone to Haverford College on the G.I. Bill and then earned a master's degree in education at the University of California in Los Angeles.: 4–6 He became a political science professor at Santa Monica College.
Ride grew up in the Van Nuys and Encino neighborhoods of Los Angeles. In 1960, when she was nine years old, the family spent a year traveling in Europe. In Spain, Ride played tennis for the first time.: 12–15 She enjoyed sports, but tennis most of all, and at age 10 was coached by Alice Marble, a former world number one player. By 1963 Ride was ranked number 20 in Southern California for girls aged 12 and under.: 22 She attended Encino Elementary School, Portola Junior High (now Portola Middle School), Birmingham High School and then, as a sophomore on a tennis scholarship, Westlake School for Girls, an exclusive all-girls private school in Los Angeles.: 19–22 Elizabeth Mommaerts, who taught human physiology, became a mentor. Ride resolved to become an astrophysicist. She graduated in June 1968, and then took a class in advanced math at Santa Monica College during the summer break.: 30–31
Her friend Sue Okie was interested in going to Swarthmore College, so Ride applied too. She was interviewed by Fred Hargadon, the dean of admissions, who was impressed by both her mental and her tennis ability. She was admitted on a full scholarship.: 28–29 She commenced classes at Swarthmore on September 18, 1968. She played golf, and made Swarthmore's field hockey varsity team. She won all six of her intercollegiate tennis matches, and became the Eastern Intercollegiate Women's Singles champion. She defended her title in May 1969, winning in straight sets. But Ride was homesick for California, and in those days before Title IX women's tennis was not well-supported at the college level; Swarthmore had no indoor courts and she could not practice when it snowed. After three semesters at Swarthmore, she returned to California in January 1970, with the aim of becoming a professional tennis player.: 32–38 She entered the University of California, Los Angeles, where she enrolled in courses in Shakespeare and quantum mechanics, earning A's in both. She was the only woman majoring in physics. She was romantically involved with the teaching assistant, John Tompkins, but it ended in September when he went to Moscow to conduct research at the Institute for High Energy Physics. Her foray into professional tennis was unsuccessful; her whole body ached, and she realized that far more effort would be necessary in order to reach the required level of fitness. She concluded that she did not have what it took to be a professional tennis player.: 40–42
Ride applied for a transfer to Stanford University as a junior. The tennis coach was eager to have her on the team, and by coincidence, Fred Hargadon was now the dean of admissions there. He was once again instrumental in approving her admission. She graduated in 1973 with a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English literature.: 44–45 She then earned a Master of Science degree in physics in 1975 and a Doctor of Philosophy in 1978. Astrophysics and free-electron lasers were her areas of study. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on "the interaction of X-rays with the interstellar medium", under the supervision of Arthur B. C. Walker Jr.
At Stanford, Ride renewed her acquaintance with Molly Tyson, who was a year younger than her. The two had met on the tennis circuit as junior tennis players. Although Ride was rated number 1 at Stanford and Tyson was number six, the two played doubles together. Ride later quit the Stanford tennis team in protest against the university's refusal to join the Pac-8 Conference in women's tennis.: 45–49 Ride and Tyson began a relationship. To earn money they gave tennis lessons, and in 1971 and 1972 they were counselors at Dennis Van der Meer's TennisAmerica summer camp at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. In August 1972, Ride played in a doubles match with Van der Meer against Billie Jean King and Dick Peters, the camp director; Martin Luther King III and Dexter King served as ball boys. Billie Jean King became a mentor and a friend. Ride watched her win the Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs in 1973. Tyson ended their relationship in 1975, and Ride moved in with Bill Colson, a fellow graduate physics student who was recently divorced.: 54–60
Main article: NASA Astronaut Group 8
In January 1977, Ride spotted an article on the front page of The Stanford Daily that told how the National Air and Space Administration (NASA) was recruiting a new group of astronauts for the Space Shuttle program and wanted to recruit women. No women had previously been NASA astronauts, although the Soviet Union's cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova had flown in space in 1963. Ride mailed a request for, and received the application forms. When asked for three persons with knowledge of her qualifications, she gave the names of three with whom she had been in relationships: Colson, Tompkins and Tyson.: 78–82
Ride's was one of 8,079 applications NASA received by the June 30, 1977 deadline. She then became one of 208 finalists. She was the only woman among the twenty applicants in the sixth group, all applicants for mission specialist positions, who reported to NASA's Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, on October 3, for a week of interviews and medical examinations. Her physical fitness impressed the doctors. They also placed her in a Personal Rescue Enclosure to see if she suffered from claustrophobia. She was asked to write a one-page essay on why she wanted to become an astronaut. Finally, she was interviewed by the selection committee.: 85–89 On January 16, 1978, she received a phone call from George Abbey, NASA's director of flight operations, who informed her that she had been selected as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8. She was one of 35 astronaut candidates in the group, of whom six were women.
Group 8's name for itself was "TFNG". The abbreviation was deliberately ambiguous; for public purposes, it stood for "Thirty-Five New Guys", but within the group itself, it was known to stand for the military phrase, "the fucking new guy", used to denote newcomers to a military unit.: 63 Officially, they were astronaut candidates; they would not become fully-fledged astronauts until they had completed their training. Ride was graded a civil service GS-12, with a salary of US $21,883 (equivalent to $90,915 in 2021). She bought a unit in the Nassau Bay, Texas, area, and moved in with Colson, who secured a research grant at Rice University so they could move to Houston together. He became the only unmarried astronaut candidate's partner.: 95–101 Ride and Colson split up in January 1979, and she briefly dated fellow astronaut candidate Robert "Hoot" Gibson.: 118–120
Astronaut candidate training included learning to fly NASA's T-38 Talon jet aircraft. Officially, mission specialists did not have to qualify as pilots, only ride in the back seat and handle an emergency if the pilot became incapacitated. They were never to control the aircraft below 5,000 feet (1,500 m), but many of the astronaut pilots and pilot candidates, eager to share their love of flying, ignored the rules, and let the more proficient mission specialist candidates fly the jets lower. John Fabian even had her fly "under the hood", with the windows blacked out and using instruments only. Ride enjoyed flying so much she took private flying lessons to earn a private pilot's license. She bought a part interest in a Grumman Tiger aircraft, which she would fly on weekends.: 95–101 On August 31, 1979, NASA announced that the 35 astronaut candidates had completed their training and evaluation, and were now officially astronauts, qualified for selection on space flight crews.
In 1981, Ride began dating Steven Hawley, another one of the TFNGs. They moved in together, and considered themselves engaged. Unlike Colson, he was not aware of her earlier relationship with Tyson.: 121 They were married on July 26, 1982, in the backyard of Hawley's parents' house in Salina, Kansas. Ride flew up from Houston for the occasion in her Grumman Tiger, and wore white jeans. The ceremony was jointly conducted by Hawley's father Bernard, the pastor at the local Presbyterian church, and Ride's sister Bear. It was deliberately kept low-key, with only parents and siblings in attendance. They became the third NASA astronaut couple, after Rhea Seddon and Hoot Gibson, who had married a few months before, and Anna Fisher and her husband Bill Fisher, who became an astronaut couple when the latter was selected with NASA Astronaut Group 9 in 1980. Ride did not take her husband's name.: 138–142
Main article: STS-7
Ride served as a ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third Space Shuttle flights, and helped develop the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (RMS), also known as the "Canadarm" or robot arm. She was the first woman to serve as a CapCom. By early 1982, George Abbey and the Chief of the Astronaut Office, John Young, wanted to begin scheduling missions with the TFNGs, starting with the seventh Space Shuttle mission. To command the mission, they chose Robert Crippen, who had flown with Young on the first Space Shuttle mission. They wanted a woman to fly on the mission, and since the mission involved the use of the RMS, the choice of the first woman to fly on the Space Shuttle narrowed to Ride, Judy Resnik and Anna Fisher, who had specialized on it. For Abbey, Crippen and Young, the choice was quickly narrowed to Ride and Judy Resnik. Factors in Ride's favor included her agreeable personality and ability to work with others, her performance as CapCom, and her skill with the robot arm. However, JSC director Chris Kraft preferred Anna Fisher, and Abbey had to defend their decision. NASA Headquarters ultimately approved Ride's selection,: 126–130 : 290–293 which was officially announced on April 1982.
As the first American woman to fly in space, Ride was subjected to media attention. There were over five hundred requests for private interviews, all of which were declined. Instead, NASA hosted the usual pre-launch press conference on May 24, 1983.: 131, 147 Ride was asked questions such as, "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?" She insisted that she saw herself in only one way—as an astronaut. NASA was still adjusting to female astronauts, and engineers had asked Ride to assist them in developing a "space makeup kit", assuming it would be something a woman would want on board. They also infamously suggested providing Ride with a supply of 100 tampons for the six-day mission.
When the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) on June 18, 1983, Ride became the first American woman to fly in space, and the third woman overall. She also became the youngest American astronaut in space, although there had been younger cosmonauts. Many of the people attending the launch wore T-shirts bearing the words "Ride, Sally Ride", lyrics from Wilson Pickett's song "Mustang Sally". The purpose of the mission was to deploy two communications satellites: Anik C2 for Telesat of Canada and Palapa B1 for Indonesia. Both were deployed during the first two days of the mission.
The mission also carried the first Shuttle pallet satellite (SPAS-1), which carried ten experiments to study formation of metal alloys in microgravity. Part of Ride's job was to operate the robot arm to deploy and later retrieve SPAS-1, which was brought back to Earth. The orbiter's small Reaction control system rockets were fired while SPAS-1 was held by the remote manipulator system to test the movement on an extended arm. STS-7 was also the first occasion on which a photograph was taken of the Space Shuttle in orbit. Ride manipulated the robot arm into the shape of a "7", as it appeared on the mission patch. The mission also studied Space adaptation syndrome, a bout of nausea frequently experienced by astronauts during the early phase of a space flight. Ride was not affected and did not require medication for the syndrome.: 180 Bad weather forced the Challenger to land at Edwards Air Force Base in California instead of the runways at KSC.: 165 The mission lasted 6 days, 2 hours, 23 minutes and 59 seconds. Now a celebrity, Ride, along with her STS-7 crewmates, spent the next few months after her flight on tour. She met with the Governor of California, George Deukmejian, and the Mayor of New York, Ed Koch. She testified before the Congressional Space Caucus on the efficacy of the robot arm, and addressed the National Press Club, but declined to appear with Bob Hope, whom she regarded as sexist. The crew presented Reagan with jelly beans that had been flown on the flight.: 171–177 In September 1983, on her own initiative, she met with Svetlana Savitskaya, the second woman to fly in space, in Budapest. The two found an instant camaraderie, and they were able to converse for six hours, thanks to Savitskaya's command of English. They exchanged gifts: Savitskaya presented Ride with Russian dolls, books and a scarf, and Ride gave Savitskaya an STS-7 charm that had flown on the mission and a TFNG shirt. They also signed autographs for each other on Russian first day covers.: 179–183
Main article: STS-41-G
While still engaged on the publicity tour, Abbey assigned Ride to the crew of STS-41-G. This was on Crippen's request; he had been assigned to another mission, STS-41-C, that would fly beforehand as part of a test to see how quickly crews could be turned around, and wanted Ride as his flight engineer again so that she could sit in for him during crew training in the meantime. During mission simulations, she sat in the commander's left hand seat. Ride would become the first American woman to fly twice, and her TFNG crewmate Kathryn Sullivan would become the first American woman to perform an extravehicular activity (EVA); Savitskaya had already become the first woman to do both when she flew in space on Soyuz T-12 in July 1984. However, it would be the first time that two women were in space together.: 188–191 
The mission lifted off from the KSC in the Space Shuttle Challenger on October 5, 1984. The rookie astronauts on the flight were cautious about moving about too soon, lest they suffer from space adaptation syndrome, but Ride was now a veteran astronaut, one who knew that she would not be affected. She immediately and gracefully began moving about. The crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, conducted scientific observations of the Earth with the OSTA-3 pallet (including the SIR-B radar, FILE, and MAPS experiments) and large format camera (LFC), and conducted numerous in-cabin experiments as well as activating eight Getaway Special canisters.
When the SIR-B antenna failed to unfold correctly, Ride used the robot arm to shake it loose, manipulating the robot arm much faster than she had been trained. She also repaired a broken antenna on the middeck. During the second day of the mission, the SIR-B antenna had to be stowed so Challenger's orbit could be altered but its latches failed to clamp and close the antenna. Ride then used the RMS to nudge the antenna panel closed. Sullivan performed an EVA with fellow TFNG mission specialist David Leestma, during in which they showed that a satellite could be refueled in orbit. STS-41-G completed 132 orbits of the Earth in 197.5 hours, landing back at the KSC on October 13, 1984.: 188–191 During the mission, Ride carried a white silk scarf that had been worn by Amelia Earhart.: 198 On her two flights Ride had spent over 343 hours in space.
Ride was soon back in the rotation, training for her third flight, STS-61-M, a Tracking and Data Relay Satellite System (TRDS) deployment mission. She also served on two more missions as CapCom. On January 7, 1986, Ride provided a glowing reference for her friend Lynn Sherr for NASA's Journalist in Space Project. Sherr became one of the finalists.: 200–201 During 1985, Ride began an affair with Tam O'Shaughnessy. The two knew each other from the junior tennis circuit, and from when Ride was at Stanford. O'Shaughnessy was now living in Atlanta, and had recently broken up with her female partner. Ride visited when she went to Atlanta on speaking engagements.: 192–195 She still performed her astronaut spouse duties for Hawley when he flew in space for the second time on STS-61-C in January 1986, which included the post-mission publicity tour. He knew that their marriage was in trouble, although he was not aware that O'Shaughnessy was more than a friend.: 199 STS-61-M was cancelled after the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Ride was appointed to the Rogers Commission, the presidential commission investigating the disaster, and headed its subcommittee on operations. She was the only Space Shuttle astronaut and the only current NASA employee on the commission. After her death in 2012, Major General Donald J. Kutyna revealed that she had discreetly provided him with key information about O-rings, namely, that they become stiff at low temperatures, that eventually led to identification of the cause of the explosion. To protect her source, they then fed this information to Richard Feynman. Ride was even more disturbed by revelations of NASA dysfunctional management decision-making and risk-assessment processes.: 204–213  According to Roger Boisjoly, who was one of the engineers that warned of the technical problems that led to the Challenger disaster, after the entire workforce of Morton-Thiokol shunned him, Ride was the only public figure to show support for him when he went public with his pre-disaster warnings. Ride hugged him publicly to show her support for his efforts.
Following the Challenger investigation, Ride was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she led NASA's first strategic planning effort. She authored a report titled "NASA Leadership and America's Future in Space". NASA management was unhappy with its prioritization of Earth exploration over a mission to Mars. She founded NASA's Office of Exploration, which she headed for two months. On weekends she flew to Atlanta to be with O'Shaughnessy. In October 1986, she published a children's book, To Space and Back, which she co-wrote with Sue Okie, her high school and Swarthmore friend.: 221–228 
In May 1987, Ride announced that she was leaving NASA to take up a two-year fellowship at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control (CISAC), commencing on August 15, 1987. She divorced Hawley in June. At Stanford, her colleagues included Condoleezza Rice, a specialist on the Soviet Union. Ride researched means by which nuclear warheads could be counted and verified from space, but the end of the Cold War made this much less of an issue. As the end of her fellowship approached, Ride hoped to secure a permanent position at Stanford. Sidney Drell, who had recruited her, attempted to get a department to appoint her as a professor, but none would. In the end, he resigned from CISAC in protest.: 231–234
In 1989, Ride became a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and director of the California Space Institute. From the mid-1990s until her death, Ride led two public-outreach programs for NASA—the ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM projects, in cooperation with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and UCSD. The programs allowed middle school students to request images of the Earth and the Moon. Ride bought a house in La Jolla, California, and O'Shaughnessy moved in after taking up a teaching position at San Diego Mesa College.: 237 She turned down offers from President Bill Clinton to become NASA Administrator, not wanting to leave California, but did agree to serve on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).: 249–250
From September 1999 to July 2000, Ride was the president of the space news website, Space.com, a company that aggregated news about science and space on its website.: 257–260 She then became the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she co-founded with O'Shaughnessy, who served as the chief executive officer and chair of the board. Sally Ride Science created entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on girls. Ride and O'Shaughnessy co-wrote six books on space aimed at children, with the goal of encouraging children to study science.
In 2003, Ride served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board, and was the only person to serve on both the panel that investigated the Challenger disaster and the one that investigated the Columbia disaster.: 279–285  She endorsed Barack Obama for president in 2008. She once again turned down an offer to become the NASA administrator, but served on the board of the National Math and Science Initiative in 2007 and the Educate to Innovate initiative in 2009. She became a member of the Review of United States Human Space Flight Plans Committee, an independent review requested by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on May 7, 2009.: 285–287 
When Ride delivered a speech at the National Science Teachers Association Conference in San Francisco on March 10, 2011, O'Shaughnessy and a friend noted that she looked ill. Alarmed, O'Shaughnessy had her book a doctor's appointment for the following day. A medical ultrasound revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball in her abdomen. A follow-up CT scan at UCSD confirmed a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and radiation therapy to reduce the size of the tumor. Ride had ensured that O'Shaughnessy would inherit her estate when she drew up her will in 1992, but now they registered their domestic partnership on August 15. On October 27, surgeons removed part of Ride's pancreas, bile duct, stomach and intestine, along with her gall bladder.: 301–308
Ride died on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61, in her home in La Jolla. Following cremation, her ashes were interred next to those of her father at Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery, Santa Monica. Her papers are in the National Air and Space Museum Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. Ride's obituary publicly revealed for the first time that O'Shaughnessy had been her partner of 27 years. This made Ride the first lesbian astronaut, and the first known LGBTQ astronaut. The relationship was confirmed by Ride's sister Bear, who said Ride chose to keep her personal life private, including her sickness and treatments.
Ride received numerous awards throughout her lifetime and after. She received the National Space Society's von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame and was awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal twice. Elementary schools in the United States were named after her, including Sally Ride Elementary School in The Woodlands, Texas, and Sally Ride Elementary School in Germantown, Maryland. In 1984, she received the Samuel S. Beard Award for Greatest Public Service by an Individual 35 Years or Under, an award given out annually by Jefferson Awards.
The California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Ride into the California Hall of Fame at the California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts on December 6, 2006. The following year she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio.
Ride directed public outreach and educational programs for NASA's GRAIL mission, which sent twin satellites to map the moon's gravity. On December 17, 2012, the two GRAIL probes, Ebb and Flow, were directed to complete their mission by crashing on an unnamed lunar mountain near the crater Goldschmidt. NASA announced that it was naming the landing site in honor of Sally Ride. Also in December 2012, the Space Foundation bestowed upon Ride its highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.
In April 2013, the United States Navy announced that a research ship would be named in honor of Ride. The RV Sally Ride (AGOR-28) was christened in 2014 and delivered to the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 2016.
A "National Tribute to Sally Ride" was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. on May 20, 2013. That day, President Barack Obama announced that Ride would receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States. The medal was presented to her life partner Tam O'Shaughnessy in a ceremony at the White House on November 20, 2013. In July 2013, Flying magazine ranked Ride at number 50 on their list of the "51 Heroes of Aviation". For their first match of March 2019, the women of the United States women's national soccer team each wore a jersey with the name of a woman they were honoring on the back; Tierna Davidson chose the name of Sally Ride.
Ride was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago that celebrates LGBT history and people, in 2014. and was honored with a Google Doodle on International Women's Day in 2017. Stanford University's Serra House located in Lucie Stern Hall was renamed the Sally Ride House in 2019. The U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class postage stamp honoring her in 2018, and Ride will appear as one of the first two honorees of the American Women quarters series in 2022. She will be the first known LGBT person to appear on US currency.
...that incorporates a nod to Encino's own Sally Ride...