An American Hero

A tribute to Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to travel to space

Jul 24, 2012 | By Suzanne Zimbler

Not long ago, few little girls imagined they could grow up to become astronauts. For years in the United States, only men had that opportunity. In 1983, that changed. Sally Ride made history by becoming the first American woman to travel into space.

On July 23, 2012, Ride died at the age of 61. "Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model,” President Barack Obama said in a statement. “She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars."

Ride hoped to inspire kids, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and technology.
Ride hoped to inspire kids, especially girls, to pursue careers in science and technology.

A Shining Star

Ride became interested in space when she was a kid. “If you asked me when I was 12 whether I wanted to be an astronaut, I’m sure I would have said yes,” she told TFK in a 2010 interview (click here to read it). “But I didn’t even think about that as a possible career.”

After studying physics in college and graduate school, Ride got her chance. She was accepted into NASA’s astronaut training program in 1978, and then chosen to be the first American female in space. In 1983, she blasted into space aboard the Challenger shuttle. “There is no amusement park ride on Earth that even comes close,” she said.

Ride returned to space on the Challenger a second time in 1984. Between the two missions, she spent a total of 343 hours in orbit. After that, she remained involved with the space program and also worked to share her passion for science with kids. She wrote five science books for children, and started her own science education company.

Her Legacy Lives On

Ride knew that she held a unique place in history. “I realized how important it was for a woman to break that barrier and open the door for other women to be able to do the same exciting things that the men had been doing,” she said.

Since Ride’s historic trip, more than 40 other American women have traveled to space. They all had Ride to thank for opening the door to the final frontier.