Sally Ride is both the youngest woman to enter space, as well as the first American woman to enter space. After her career in aeronautics, she started the organization Sally Ride Science to encourage like-minded girls and young women to pursue their interest in math and science.
Sally Ride was born May 26, 1951 and grew up in Los Angeles. She manifested a competitive streak from an early age, often playing football in the street, until her parents encouraged her toward tennis, a sport they considered more safe. She excelled at tennis in high school and even into college, although the urging of famed tennis great, Billie Jean King was not enough to dissuade her from pursuing her interest in physics.
Ride was a double major in English and Physics, for which she earned her bachelor's at Stanford University in 1973. She continued her education in physics, earning her masters in 1975 and her P.H.D. in 1978, both from Stanford as well.
Around the time she received her P.H.D. Ride learned that NASA was recruiting new candidates for the aeronautics program, and upon reviewing the necessary qualifications, believed herself to be a perfect fit. Obviously NASA agreed; she was offered a spot in the rigorous training program, beating out 1,000 other qualified candidates. Ride made a name for herself both in space and in the record books when, as both the youngest American and the youngest woman, she entered space aboard the Challenger.
A public figure by default Ride was notoriously private about her personal life. She was known to decline invitations for biographies or movies about herself, and the career that launched her into national notoriety. It was noted with great interest after her death that she may have also been the first LGBT woman in space, when it was revealed her longtime partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy survived her.
Outside of her aeronautical career, Ride also deserves recognition for her efforts to encourage young girls and women to pursue their interest in math and science. She did this through the creation of her non-profit organization, Sally Ride Science, which seeks to inspire young people in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and to promote STEM literacy.
Ride is also the only person to serve on not one, but both panels organized to investigate the nation’s space shuttle disasters: the Challenger explosion in 1986 and the breakup of the shuttle Columbia upon reentry in 2002.
For her contributions to the field of science and space exploration, Ride received many honors, including the NASA Space Flight Medal and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was also inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame.
Ride undoubtedly has earned the recognition she deserves this women’s history month, not only for her contributions to aeronautics, but for the actions she took to encourage more girls and women to enter the fields of math and science.