Say hello to Sally Ride, at just 32 years old, Ride was the first American woman, and the youngest American, to leave the atmosphere when she boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983 and over two trips Ride spent a total of 14d 07h 46m in outer space.
During the six-day mission, she worked as a mission specialist using the shuttle's robotic arm to deploy communications satellites.
Her career as an astronaut began as she was completing her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Stanford University.
In 1977, NASA displayed an ad in her school's student newspaper inviting women to apply for the space program, prompting Ride to send a 40-word letter asking for an application. She ended up beating out more than 1,000 other applicants, and was one of six women selected to the astronaut program.
But Ride wasn't done making history. Just one year after her historic Challenger mission, Ride travelled to space for a second time. That made her the first American woman to travel to space twice.
She was actually scheduled for a third spaceflight, but the 1986 Challenger accident ended those plans. Ride then served on the Rogers Commission as head of the subcommittee on operations to investigate the explosion.
Later on, she worked on the investigation into the accident involving the Space Shuttle Columbia, making her the only person to work on the committees for both accidents.
After leaving NASA, Ride became director of the California Space Institute, as well as a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.
Ride was passionate about improving education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, especially for girls. In 2001, she founded SallyRide Science, a nonprofit that promotes science education programs and works to help students pursue interests in STEM fields.
She passed away on July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. During her life, Ride kept her personal life private. She married fellow astronaut Steve Hawley in 1982, but they divorced in 1987. After her passing, science writer and former professional tennis player, Tam O’Shaughnessy opened up about their 27-year relationship. They met as children while competing in tennis competitions, remained close friends, and the friendship blossomed into love. Ride and O’Shaughnessy were open about their relationship as partners and as business partners, especially toward the end of Ride’s life. Not only is Ride the first American woman in space, she is also the first acknowledged gay astronaut.
In 2013, President Obama posthumously honoured Ride with a Presidential Medal of Freedom, and O’Shaughnessy accepted the award.
President Obama praised the astronaut's achievements, saying "she inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools."
He added, "Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come."