WASHINGTON – Thirty years ago, a glass ceiling was broken high above the Earth as Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly into space.
On June 18, 1983, with a thunderous roar, the Space Shuttle Challenger sprinted off its Florida launchpad carrying Ride along with four male astronauts on a six-day space flight to deploy a communications satellite and conduct mid-deck experiments.
Although the flight carved a path into history, Ride preferred that her accomplishments not be defined by her gender.
“She often said that she didn’t want to be the woman astronaut, she wanted to be an astronaut,” says Bill Barry, chief historian for NASA.
As a child, Ride craved studying science and math and later earned a doctorate in physics from Stanford University, which helped earn her a place among NASA’s 1978 astronaut class — the first to include women.
Barry says she had the attributes NASA wanted for America’s first woman in space.
“She was a very smart young lady and attractive and well spoken,” he says.
In 2009, during Astronomy Night at the White House, Ride recalled the view of Earth during her first spaceflight.
“It took my breath away the first time that I looked back at Earth,” Ride said. “The thing that made the biggest impression to me was how fragile our Earth looks,” she said.
Ride would go on to a second spaceflight in 1984 and had been scheduled for a third trip but the mission was scrapped following the January 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.
Ride would go on to serve on the Presidential Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger Accident and laterthe Columbia Accident Investigation Board in 2003.
She inspired legions of children to study science and math and established the educational company Sally Ride Science.
Ride died in 2012 at age 61 following a battle with pancreatic cancer.