First American Woman In Space: Sally Ride

Physicist Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, participating in two missions aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. After the Challenger explosion she was on the team of scientists which investigated the causes.

Sally Ride was the first American woman to travel into space. Two Russian women had done so previously, but Ride was the first American woman.

Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Encino, California. She earned double bachelor's degrees at Sanford University: a bachelor's of arts in English Literature, and a bachelor's of science in physics. She earned a masters and a doctorate in physics.

While looking for post-doctoral work in astrophysics she got information about NASA's search for astronauts in the Sanford University newspaper. She applied, along with 8,000 others. She made the cut of 208 finalists, and ultimately became one of the 35 people accepted to the space shuttle program in 1978. Of those thirty five, six were women.

Astronaut training involves parachute jumping, water survival training, gravity and weightlessness training, radio communications and navigation. Some water survival training and weightlessness training take place in Building 29 at NASA's Johnson Space Center, which contains an underwater mock up of a space shuttle. Astronauts in space suits, taped by camera operators in SCUBA gear, practice performing various tasks in the altered gravitational pull of the underwater conditions. Some of the weightlessness training takes place in an airplane dubbed the Vomit Comet. This plane travels at an enormous rate of speed, changing height so that those inside are rendered airborne. The result is sometimes nausea, thus the plane's nick name! Special training is received in every area of living and operating in outer space, from the complex scientific tasks they must perform, to the most presumably routine task of using the toilet without the assistance of gravity!

During the Space Shuttle Columbia's second and third flights, Dr. Ride was a communications officer, relaying messages between mission control and the shuttle. She was part of a team that designed the shuttles' remote mechanical arm that was used to retrieve and deploy satellites in space.

Ride was a member of Group 8, made up of pilots and mission specialists. Because she was the first American woman assigned to a crew, Ride's mission generated a great deal of publicity. She was humble about her role as one of a crew, but it was certainly a cause for celebration when she went up on Challenger (STS-7), a Space Transportation System launch, on June 18, 1983.

Her next flight was on Challenger (STS-41G) for eight days which gave her three hundred and forty three total hours of space time.

Dr. Ride was preparing for her third space mission when the Challenger, containing a crew including teacher Christa McAuliffe, the first civilian in space, exploded on January 28, 1986. Ride participated on the investigative commission which researched the cause of the disaster, returning a verdict of faulty O-rings, affected by cold temperatures.

Dr. Ride retired from the space program in 1987 and returned to Stanford as a Science Fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control. She then became Director of The California Space Institute and a physics professor at the University of California at San Diego. She is devoted to encouraging young women to pursue careers in the sciences and mathematics. She has written three children's books about science.

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