A Chat with Sally Ride

TFK catches up with the astronaut who was the first woman to travel into space

November 30, 2010
NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, inside the space shuttle “Challenger” circa 1983.

NASA astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, inside the space shuttle “Challenger” circa 1983.

Have you ever dreamed of blasting off into space? That was always Sally Ride's dream. It turned into a reality on June 18, 1983, when she became the first American woman to travel into space.

Ride became interested in science when she was a little girl. After studying physics in college and graduate school, she was accepted into NASA's astronaut training program. She went on to make two unforgettable trips into space.
After that, Ride  dedicated her time to getting kids excited about science, technology, engineering and math. Together, these subjects are known as STEM. Test scores show that U.S. students are falling behind in STEM subjects compared to kids in other countries. Ride worked to reverse the trend. In 2010, she talked to TFK Kid Reporter Lauren Dawn about her lifelong passion for science and her goal get more kids interested in STEM fields.
When did you first become interested in science?
I have been interested in science for as long as I can remember. I loved science even when I was in second grade and third grade. It was my favorite subject in school. I [also] loved sports and was outside all the time. When I was inside, my main interests in school were in science and math.
When did you become interested in being an astronaut?
Partly because of my interest in science and partly because of the time that I grew up, I was always fascinated by the space program. I grew up in the early days of the space program. It was big news all the time. I can still remember our teachers in fourth and fifth grade wheeling these big old black and white TV sets into the classroom, so that we could watch some of the early space launches. The whole class was just fascinated. I admired astronauts even from that time. If you asked me when I was 12 whether I wanted to be an astronaut, I'm sure I would have said yes. But I didn't even think about that as a possible career until I was just finishing [graduate school]. NASA put out an announcement that they were accepting applications for astronauts, and this was the first time they had done that in over 10 years. It was the first time they were bringing women into the astronaut program. As soon as I saw that, I knew that's what I wanted to do. So I applied. It was always a dream of mine starting in elementary and middle school but I didn't think that dream would become a reality until I was almost out of graduate school.
What did it feel like to blast off into space for the first time?
There is no amusement park ride on earth that even comes close. You strap into the space shuttle, and believe me you have to be strapped in. When the rockets ignite and the shuttle starts moving, there is so much noise and vibration and so much going on. There are just tons and tons of rocket fuel exploding underneath you. You get this kick and you're off the launch pad. It's hard to take it all in. For several seconds, I was overwhelmed by the power of the launch.
Was it difficult to have a career in science when mostly men worked in that area?
When I was brought into NASA as part of a new astronaut class, there were 35 of us in that class. Six of us were women. I was lucky that there were other women who were brought into the astronaut program the same time I was. As soon as we joined NASA, it was almost all men. In the NASA facility where I was working in Houston, there were probably only four or five women out of 4,000 people. It was really good to have those other women in my astronaut class. That made it much easier because it was really different when I got to NASA. The men were not used to working with women and even having women in their meetings, which is unthinkable now.
What do you think is your most important accomplishment?
The accomplishment that I will be remembered for is being the first American woman to go into space. Looking back on it, that's really important to me. I went into the astronaut program not to be the first woman, but just to get a chance to go into space. I realized how important it was for a woman to break that barrier and open the door for other women to join the astronaut core, and be able to do the same exciting things that the men had been doing. I am proud and honored to be picked to be the first one. I am most proud of training for and completing that first mission.
What can young girls do to prepare for a career in science?
To prepare for a career in science, it is important to understand what scientist do. Just having a good background in science is a very important thing these days. Look around on the web, and talk to your teachers. Find examples of women that are alive today and part of [this] exciting work. What girls will find is that there are a wide variety of types of people that became interested in science for very different reasons. They also have other interests and lead normal lives. It is a very rewarding career that allows you to have a real impact on your community, on other people's lives or on things that we know about our planet or the universe.
The U.S. is ranked 29th in science and 35th in math compared to other countries. What do you think is the reason for this?
I think the main reason is that we as a country have not put a focus on math and science education like we used to. When I was growing up, it was one of the most important things to the country. It was really important on a national level that we give students a strong education in math and science. We encouraged them to become scientists and engineers. Back when I was growing up, it was really cool to be a scientist , and that hasn't been the case in the last many years in this country. Nationally, we haven't put the emphasis on it, and we are seeing the results. Because other countries are placing an emphasis on it and are really working hard to make sure that their students are well prepared in math and science, they are jumping ahead of us in the international ranking.
For information about a STEM education program that Ride is involved with, visit

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