Within the US space industry’s storied history, there are several figures serving as key contributors to our biggest breakthroughs. One such individual is Sally Ride, the first female astronaut (and youngest American astronaut at the time) to fly in space. Ride’s 1983 voyage became an iconic moment for the burgeoning space sector, offering a long overdue stepping stone toward normalized equality within the astronaut selection process. 

Born in 1951, Ride developed a childhood interest in space exploration – a still relatively foreign, advanced concept at the time. Her passion culminated in a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and Ph.D. in physics – all from Stanford University. 

These academic achievements helped Ride earn entry into the US’s first female astronaut candidate group. She was one of six women (along with 29 men) selected from a pool of over 8,000 applicants. Ride then trained for the next five years, honing key skills and gleaning knowledge that would eventually lead to her first space mission, STS-7, aboard the later ill-fated space shuttle Challenger. The mission’s goal was to deploy two commercial communications satellites in what was deemed one of the most ambitious space flights to date.  

Along with four male cohorts, Ride entered space on June 18th, 1983 and remained there until June 24th, becoming the first female astronaut to accomplish such a feat. Upon returning, Ride was hailed for her achievement, going on to receive countless honors and accolades and channeling her experiences into a long-standing career as a space industry innovator and educator. She has even inspired major popular culture in the US, earning mentions in songs by Billy Joel and Janelle Monáe, depictions in popular television series, and references to her likeness in LEGO and Barbie products. Ride herself was an accomplished author, penning several educational texts rooted in space exploration and discovery. 

Ride passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2012. After her death, it became known that she had privately identified as LGTBQ, making her the first known astronaut of this community and further underscoring her influence on diversity and equity within the space industry. 

Sally Ride’s accomplishments not only changed the face of the space industry – they became a guiding light for women interested in entering this vital, progressive field, one that remains brighter than ever today.

Image credit: NASA Astronaut Instagram