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Today in history: Sally Ride becomes first U.S. woman to venture into space

Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the shuttle Columbia flight deck in this June 1983 photo. Ride became America's first woman in space 20 years ago today. She died in 2012.
Astronaut Sally Ride, a specialist on shuttle mission STS-7, monitors control panels from the pilot's chair on the shuttle Columbia flight deck in this June 1983 photo. Ride became America's first woman in space 20 years ago today. She died in 2012.
Published Jun. 18, 2015

It was 32 years ago Thursday that Sally Ride became the first U.S. woman in history to jet off into outer space.

On June 18, 1983, at Cape Canaveral, Ride boarded the space shuttle Challenger for its second mission into space. She reluctantly became a global icon for female empowerment and over time was grouped with other female pioneers such as Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Earhart.

On that Saturday, the Associated Press wrote ahead of the launch, Ride would "climb into the cockpit of the space shuttle Challenger with four men to be launched into orbit by 7 million pounds of rocket power. She'll spend six days in space doing key jobs — launching two satellites, operating a robot arm and acting as flight engineer during the critical ascent and landing."

Her flight inspired posters — "A woman in space today, equality tomorrow," and declared "Her-story made today by Sally Ride" — and T-shirts — "Ride, Sally, ride."

In a post-mission debriefing, Ride marveled about the beauty of sunrises seen from space. And in a subtle way, she signaled the progress her flight sparked, making this promise to biomedical engineer Judy Resnick, who was scheduled to be on a shuttle crew the following March: "Judy, you're going to have a great time!"

Ride valued her privacy, though, and despite her iconic status in history she kept secret from the public her sexual orientation. Ride only came out posthumously in an obituary she co-wrote with her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, before she died from pancreatic cancer in 2012. Some LGBT activists criticized Ride for not using her social status to influence the gay rights movement, but family said she decided her private life was her business alone.

After she retired from NASA, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, a company she hoped would make science fun and interesting for young girls and boys. She headed up the firm until her 2012 death at age 61.

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