In Florida, elementary school children go on a field trip to the Kennedy Space Center to learn about space. After all, the children grew up watching space shuttles enter space, hundreds of miles away. While they are at the space center, they watch IMAX movies about stars, space shuttles, and astronauts. They see the launch pad, retired space shuttles, and satellites. They purchase glow-in-the-dark stars to decorate their bedrooms and try space food. When they leave, they all dream about going to space. Once upon a time only boys could dream about going to space, but because of Sally Ride, girls can now dream about going to space.
The first female American astronaut was born on May, 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents encouraged her to study science, buying her chemistry sets and telescopes. In 1977, she was finishing up her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University when she saw a NASA newsletter ad seeking astronaut candidates. Up until then, majority of astronauts were military pilots and all of them were male. Out of the 8,000 people to reply to the application, only 35 were chosen, including Sally Ride and five other women. Beginning in 1978, Ride learned how to fly, to parachute, and she was part of the team to develop the robotic arm used by shuttle crews in space. On August, 1979, Ride finished her one-year training and evaluation period, making her eligible to go to space. As the first American female to go into space, she had to endure the sexist questions asked by news reporters: Would she wear a bra in space? Did she cry on the job? How would she deal with menstruation in space? Would space affect her reproductive organs? As a NASA news conference, she replied “It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”
On June, 1983, aboard the space shuttle Challenger, she became the first American woman and the youngest American astronaut at 32 to go into space. She returned to space for the last time in 1984. Her other work at NASA includes being the only person to serve on both panels investigating the Challenger explosion in 1986 and Columbia’s failure to reenter Earth’s atmosphere in 2003. She was the special assistant to the administrator for long-range and strategic planning and became the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration.
After retiring from NASA in 1987, she became a physics professor and an award-winning author of science books for children. In 2001, she started Sally Ride Science to inspire young people, especially girls, to take an interest in science and engineering. On July 23, 2012, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, she died at the age of 61. Her obituary listed her partner of 27 years, meaning that Ride was also the first LGBT astronaut. In 2013, the Space Foundation presented the its highest honor, the General James E. Hill Lifetime Achievement Award, to Ride.
Twenty years ago, Sally Ride became the first female American astronaut to go into space. Though the Soviet Union had sent two women into space before her, she still had to answer questions about using the toilet and wearing makeup in space. Ride’s numerous positions and awards showed that she could compete with and beat out other male astronauts. After retiring from NASA, she dedicated the rest of her life encouraging girls to study science, a field that is still a male-dominated field. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden stated “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers, and explorers. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”