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Sally Ride: The First American Woman In Space

The year is 1983. The woman is Sally Ride. She may not be the first woman to be a part of NASA, but she still was a first. On June 18, Sally Ride launched on the Challenger space shuttle, mission STS-7, approximately three years before the Challenger disaster, becoming the first American woman to launch into space. She was preceded by the Russian cosmonauts, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.

Young Life.

Born on May 26, 1951, Sally was a tennis player, which is how she earned her way into Westlake High School for Girls in Los Angeles. She went to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, left to pursue tennis, then went back to college at Stanford, achieving four degrees until 1978, according to

The NASA Connection.

In 1977, Sally saw a newspaper ad for NASA, answered the ad, and became one of the five women of NASA's class of 1978. She started on the ground, as most of NASA did. She spent two missions as CAPCOM (Capsule Communicator), the second and third shuttle flights, in November 1981 and March 1982. At the age of 32, she launched on her first mission, lasting about a week. According to, "Tasks on the mission included launching communications satellites for Canada and Indonesia....During the flight, Ride became the first woman to operate the shuttle's robotic arm." She later helped investigate the 1986 Challenger tragedy, as well as the 2003 Colombia incident.

Life After and Outside NASA.

From 1982 to 1987, Sally Ride was married to the astronaut Steven Hawley, but had no children, and had a romantic partnership with the children's author Tam O'Shoughnessy from 1985 until Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012, at the age of 61. She was a part of the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control, and she went on to become a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. From 1999 to 2000, she was the president of She co-founded Sally Ride Science, wrote five science-related books, and her legacy lives on today.

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