STEM History:

Sally Ride


American astronaut and physicist

Birth/Death Dates

May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012


Ride joined NASA in 1978. In 1983, she became the first American woman and the third woman to fly in space, after cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982. She was also the youngest American astronaut to have flown in space, having done so at the age of 32.

She later founded a nonprofit, Sally Ride Science, to inspire girls to explore math and science. 

Ride is the first astronaut known to have been LGBT. She was in a long-term relationship with former Women’s Tennis Association player Tam O’Shaughnessy.

Educational Background

  • Swarthmore College
  • University of California, Los Angeles
  • Stanford University (BA, BS, MS, PhD)

Struggles this Innovator Overcame

Ride had to break gender barriers to become the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983. That honor came with huge expectations.

Problems this Innovator Solved

Traditionally, fewer women have pursued STEM careers than men. In 2001, Ride founded a nonprofit, Sally Ride Science, to motivate girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math, and technology.

How this innovator changed the world (or at least their corner of it)

Ride was selected as a mission specialist astronaut with NASA Astronaut Group 8, the first class of NASA astronauts to include women. After training in 1979, she served as the ground-based capsule communicator for the second and third Space Shuttle flights and helped develop the Space Shuttle’s robotic arm. In June 1983, she flew into space on the Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-7 mission. The mission deployed two communications satellites and the first Shuttle pallet satellite (SPAS-1). Ride operated the robotic arm to deploy and retrieve SPAS-1. Her second space flight was the STS-41-G mission in 1984, which was also on board Challenger. She spent a total of more than 343 hours in space.

Lasting changes from this innovator’s work or how they trailblazed

Sally Ride’s career contributions resulted in many honors. These include:

  • A “National Tribute to Sally Ride” was held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., on May 20, 2013. President 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 partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, in a White House ceremony on November 20, 2013.
  • Flying magazine included Ride on their “51 Heroes of Aviation” list in July 2013.
  • Ride was inducted into the Legacy Walk, an outdoor public display in Chicago that celebrates LGBT history and people, in 2014.
  • Stanford University’s Serra House, located in Lucie Stern Hall, was renamed the Sally Ride House in 2019.
  • The U.S. Postal Service issued a first-class postage stamp honoring Ride in 2018, and Ride appeared as one of the first two honorees of the American Women Quarters series in March 2022. She was the first known LGBT person to appear on U.S. currency.
  • In her honor, the Cygnus spacecraft used for the NG-18 mission was named the S.S. Sally Ride. It launched successfully on November 7, 2022.
  • A statue of Ride was unveiled outside the Cradle of Aviation Museum in 2022, and another one was unveiled outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2023.

Written by Donna Abosch