Sally Ride

First American Woman in Space

Sally Ride in Challenger space shuttle interior, 1984
Sally Ride in Challenger space shuttle interior, 1984. Space Frontiers / Getty Images

Sally Ride, known for being the first American woman in space, was a scientist, astrophysicist, astronaut, and writer.  She lived from May 26, 1951 until July 23, 2012.

Sally Ride Biography:

A California native, Sally Ride studied physics and English at Stanford University. She had been a nationally ranked tennis player, and began her college career at Swarthmore, but chose science and college -- and warmer California -- over a tennis career.

Applying to NASA's training program for astronauts on an impulse in 1978, Sally Ride became one of six women of 35 trainees chosen. She was a capsule communicator at mission control for the second shuttle mission. Sally Ride was chosen as a member of the space shuttle's seventh mission in 1982. Some of the astronaut veterans and trainers supported her and the other women, some were opposed to women becoming astronauts.  She worked as part of the earthside team for STS-2 and STS-3.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in orbit when the space shuttle Challenger on mission STS-7 took off on June 18, 1983. Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya had made it into space in missions in 1963 and 1982, as Soviet cosmonauts, but America's first woman in space was still a major phenomenon, with much interest in the press and among the public.  She appeared in many interviews, though she refused to appear on the Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson because she didn't like how women were treated on that show.

 Her photographs as an astronaut were widely viewed. She was a symbol of gender equality and the breaking of a glass ceiling, but more than that, she was a believer in women's equality.

Sally Ride later flew, also on the Challenger, on the thirteenth space shuttle flight. On that flight, Ride's friend and a member of her training cohort, Kathryn Sullivan, became the first American woman to walk in space.

 Sullivan later became US Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

Sally Ride was in training for a third shuttle mission when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in January, 1986, with its crew aboard. Four members of the crew, including Judith Resnik, had been part of Sally Ride's cohort in training. Ride was appointed to the Presidential Commission investigating the accident, the only astronaut on that commission. She then worked for NASA's administration, creating the Office of Exploration and producing a report on the space program's future.

Three other women members of Ride's training cohort, Anna Lee Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon and Shannon Lucid, also made their mark in the space program.

Briefly married to a fellow astronaut, Steve Hawley, Sally Ride left NASA in 1987, teaching physics first at Stanford then at the University of California, San Diego.  Ride's partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, was a professor, professional tennis player and science writer. They co-founded the company, Sally Ride Science.

Sally Ride has written several books, including for children, often with Tam O'Shaughnessy. In 1992, she was a member of the transtion team for president-elect Bill Clinton.

Sally Ride was president of the website for a year, 1999-2000.

She died on July 23, 2012, of pancreatic cancer. She was 61 years old.


  • Mother: Carol Joyce (Anderson) Ride
  • Father: Dale Burdell Ride
  • Siblings: Karen, a minister
  • Husband: Steve Hawley (married 1982; divorced 1986)
  • Partner: Tam O’Shaughnessy (since 1986)


  • Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania
  • Stanford University: B.S. Physics and B.A. English, 1973; Ph.D. astrophysics, 1978


  • Ride, Sally and Tam O'Shaughnessy. The Mystery of Mars. 1999. Fiction, ages 9-12.
  • Ride, Sally and Susan Okie. To Space and Back.1986. Ages 9-12.
  • Camp, Carole Ann. Sally Ride: First American Woman in Space. Age: young adult.
  • Hopping, Lorraine Jean. Sally Ride: Space Pioneer. 2000. Ages 9-12.
  • Hurwitz, Jane and Sue Hurwitz. Sally Ride: Shooting for the Stars. 1989. Ages 9-12.
  • Stott, Carole. Into the Unknown.
  • Verheyden-Hilliard, Mary E. Scientist and Astronaut: Sally Ride.1985. Ages 9-12.

More About Sally Ride:

  • Categories: Astronaut, physicist
  • Organizational Affiliations include: EarthKAM, Imaginary Lines, NASA,
  • Religion: Presbyterian
  • Places: United States
  • Period: 20th century
  • Also known as: Sally K. Ride, Sally Kristen Ride, Sally Kirsten Ride, Mrs. Steven A. Hawley
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Your Citation
Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Sally Ride." ThoughtCo, Jun. 2, 2017, Lewis, Jone Johnson. (2017, June 2). Sally Ride. Retrieved from Lewis, Jone Johnson. "Sally Ride." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 17, 2017).