First American Woman in Space
Who was the first American woman in space?
In 1983, the hit song, "Mustang Sally," experienced a sudden burst of popularity nearly two decades after it was released. First recorded by Mack Rice in 1965 and made famous by Wilson Pickett the following year, the song had been largely relegated to classic rock stations.
The reason for this sudden revival? NASA was about to make Sally Ride the first American woman in space. Soon, a line from the song’s chorus, "Ride, Sally, ride" was on everyone’s lips.
Born on May 26, 1951 in Encino, Calif., Ride was awarded a scholarship to attend Westlake School for Girls. She excelled at science and athletics, becoming a nationally ranked tennis player. Ride went on to Stanford University, where she obtained bachelor's degree in English and a Ph.D in physics.
Ride watched the space program with great interest growing up, but with no chance of going herself. There were few scientists and no women in the astronaut corps.
That changed in 1978 when NASA recruited a new group of astronauts to fly the space shuttle. The larger shuttles could fly a crew of seven, meaning NASA needed scientists and engineers to run experiments, operate equipment, and perform other duties.
Ride applied and was selected as part of a class of 35 astronaut candidates. It was a diverse group that included six women, three African Americans, and one Japanese-American.
Ride trained hard and helped to develop the space shuttle's robotic arm. She was selected to be the first American woman in space when she was assigned as to the STS-7 crew. The media attention was intense for the historic flight. One reporter even asked her if she would cry during the flight. (She didn’t.)
Launch day came on June 18, 1983 -- 20 years and two days after Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Ride climbed aboard the space shuttle Challenger with Commander Bob Crippen, Pilot Frederick Hauck, and Mission Specialists Norman Thagard and John Fabian. They roared off the pad at 7:33 a.m. EDT as the largest crew ever to fly into space.
Sally Ride became the first American woman in space on the STS-7 space shuttle mission. Image Courtesy of NASA
Ride used the shuttle's robotic arm to deploy and retrieve a free-flying spacecraft full of experiments. The crew also conducted pharmaceutical experiments in microgravity during the successful six-day flight.
Ride flew into space again on Challenger the following year as a member of the STS 41-G crew. During the 8-day mission, the crew deployed a satellite, conducted scientific observations of Earth, and practiced refueling a satellite.
The first American woman in space was assigned to a future shuttle mission. However, that plan was put on hold after Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. Ride served on a presidential commission that investigated the tragedy.
Ride left the space program in the following year to pursue an academic career. She later served on the board that investigated the loss of the Columbia, making her the only person to serve on both space shuttle investigative bodies.
The first American woman in space is an inspiration to young girls. Ride has written or co-authored five books on space aimed at encouraging children to study science and technology careers.
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