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 became the first American woman in space in 1983. Ride was the third woman in space overall, after USSR cosmonautsValentina Tereshkova (1963) and Svetlana Savitskaya (1982). Ride remains the youngest American astronaut to have traveled to space, having done so at the age of 32. After flying twice on the Orbiter Challenger, she left NASA in 1987.
The elder child of Dale Burdell Ride and Carol Joyce Ride (née Anderson), Ride was born in Los Angeles. She had one sibling, Karen "Bear" Ride, who is a Presbyterian minister. Both parents were elders in the Presbyterian Church. Ride's mother had worked as a volunteer counselor at a women's correctional facility. Her father had been a political science professor at Santa Monica College.
Ride was selected to be an astronaut as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8, in 1978, the first class to select women. She applied after seeing an advertisement in the Stanford student newspaper, and was one of only 35 people selected out of the 8000 applications. After graduating training in 1979, becoming eligible to work as a mission specialist she served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third Space Shuttle flights, and helped develop the Space Shuttle's "Canadarm" robot arm.
Prior to her first space flight, she was subject to media attention due to her gender. During a press conference, she was asked questions such as, "Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?" and "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?" Despite this and the historical significance of the mission, Ride insisted that she saw herself in only one way--as an astronaut.
On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space as a crew member on Space Shuttle Challenger for STS-7. 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 and the first Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-1), conduct experiments within the cargo bay, and test the TDRS satellite. SPAS-1 was successfully deployed, underwent experiments, then recollected and brought back to Earth.
She was named to the Rogers Commission (the presidential commission investigating the Challenger disaster) and headed its subcommittee on operations. She was the only person to serve on both of the panels investigating Shuttle accidents (those for the Challenger accident and later the Columbia disaster). Following the Challenger investigation, Ride was assigned to NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C., where she led NASA's first strategic planning effort, authored a report titled "NASA Leadership and America's Future in Space" and founded NASA's Office of Exploration. After Sally Ride's death in 2012, General Donald 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.
According to Roger Boisjoly, who was the engineer 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. Sally Ride hugged him publicly to show her support for his efforts.
Ride wrote or co-wrote seven books on space aimed at children, with the goal of encouraging children to study science.
Ride was extremely private about her personal life. In 1982, she married fellow NASA astronaut Steve Hawley. They divorced in 1987.
After Ride's death, her obituary revealed that her partner of 27 years was Tam O'Shaughnessy, a professor emerita of school psychology at San Diego State University and childhood friend, who met her when both were aspiring tennis players. O'Shaughnessy was also a science writer and, later, the co-founder of Sally Ride Science. O'Shaughnessy served as the Chief Executive Officer and Chair of the Board of Sally Ride Science. They wrote six acclaimed children's science books together. Their relationship was revealed by the company and confirmed by her sister, who said she chose to keep her personal life private, including her sickness and treatments. She is the first known LGBT astronaut.
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 U.S. Navy announced that a research ship would be named in honor of Ride. This was done in 2014 with the christening of the oceanographic research vessel RV Sally Ride (AGOR-28).
On May 20, 2013, a "National Tribute to Sally Ride" was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. and on that same 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".
In 2014, Ride was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display that celebrates LGBT history and people.