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Sally Ride: Sports or Space

Updated: Feb 17

Hello everyone! I'm Tina and this is Women Weekly, where I post about one wonderful woman in the STEM field every Friday. Today, you're going to read about the woman who broke the glass ceiling of Earth's atmosphere – Sally Ride.

 

Sally Ride was born in 1951 in Los Angeles, California. She had a younger sister and parents, who together with her teachers, always supported her interests. When Sally was 9 years old, she fell in love with tennis. Sally attended Encino Elementary School, Portola Junior High, and Birmingham High School. In her sophomore year, she transferred to the prestigious Westlake School for Girls on a tennis scholarship. She graduated in 1968 and started attending college with a full scholarship, resolved to become an astrophysicist.

After 3 semesters at Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania, she moved back to California, transferring to the University of California. She planned on becoming a professional tennis player, later realizing she didn't have what it took. Sally transferred again, this time to Stanford University, where she earned a B.A. in English literature and a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in physics.

In 1977, Sally saw an article about NASA recruiting astronauts for the Space Shuttle program, newly accepting women as well. She decided to apply and after several successful rounds of the admission process, she became a part of NASA Astronaut Group 8, also known as Thirty-Five New Guys (TFNG). A couple of years later, Sally married another group member, Steven Hawley.

Astronaut training is a rigorous process, and although it mainly consists of studying and understanding everything needed for the mission, it also includes activities like water survival or flying planes. Sally found the latter especially appealing, even taking additional flying lessons and earning a private pilot's license. Sally also worked as a capsule communicator and contributed to the development of the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (RMS) also known as the robot arm.

With all this experience, she was chosen to be on the seventh Space Shuttle mission, focused on deploying satellites for Camada and Indonesia. On June 18, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenge took off with Sally on board, making her the first American woman in space. Her job there was mainly operating the robot arm. The 6-day mission ended successfully and a little over a year later, Sally found herself again on Challenger, taking off to space for the second time. Her extended experience with the robot arm came in handy when correcting and fixing antennas during the flight. With her colleague, she also performed extra-vehicular activity for the first time, to prove that satellites could be refueled in orbit.

After 2 successful missions, Sally was planning to participate in another one, but the Challenger disaster altered her plans. She became a part of the board investigating the disaster, providing information that was vital for resolving the cause.

Sally began an affair with her old friend Tam O'Shaughnessy, later divorcing her husband and moving in with her instead.

In 1987, she left NASA and took a 2-year fellowship at Stanford, later becoming a professor at the University of California. She co-wrote several children's books about space and participated in many other activities that were meant to ignite children's interest in science, such as EarthKAM and MoonKAM, or co-founding Sally Ride Science with her partner. She was also a part of different decisions regarding education and space policies.

Sally died in 2012 of pancreatic cancer. In her obituary, her long-term sapphic relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy was revealed.

Sally Ride paved the way for female astronauts. Her job would have been difficult enough being an astronaut, but on top of that she had to constantly face sexist questions from the press, something NASA had never prepared her for. Yet she bravely endured it all, showing everyone that women can make amazing astronauts and encouraging young girls to follow their scientific dreams.



 

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