By Yoon Young Lee
An American physicist and astronaut, Sally Kristen Ride, was born and grew up in 1951 in California, U.S. She was born into a conservative Presbyterian church. Both her parents were elders for the church. Her father was a political science professor at Santa Monica College and her mother was a volunteer counselor at a womens’ correctional facility. When she was young, she was not only interested in science, but tennis. She was a ranked tennis player.
When she completed her master’s degree and a Ph.D at Stanford, she coincidentally read a newspaper advertisement about seeking applicants for NASA's space program. After beating out 1000 other applicants for a spot in NASA’s astronaut program in 1978, she joined NASA and got a chance to go into space and the record books in 1983. That was her first trip to space and she became the first American woman in space aboard the space shuttle Challenger. She came back to Earth after 6 days.
In 1984, she took her second trip as a mission specialist on a space shuttle flight. There, she spent about 343 hours in space. When she came back, she finished 8 months of training for her third flight. However, the tragic Challenger explosion in 1986 made her cancel her plans for further flights into space. After the accident, she moved to Washington, D.C. to investigate the space shuttle explosion as she served on the presidential commission which was named to the Rogers Commission Report.
In 1987, she left her position in Washington, D.C. and worked at Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989, she taught at the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics. In 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to create entertaining science programs and publications to help inspire young women to pursue their interests in science and math.
For her significant contributions to the field of science and space exploration, Ride won many awards including the NASA Space Flight Medal, the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. After a 17 month battle with pancreatic cancer, she died at the age of 61 in 2012 in La Jolla, California.