Sally Ride

July 24, 2012


View Photo Gallery: Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space, died of pancreatic cancer at her home in La Jolla, Calif., at age 61. When Ride clambered aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, she also became the youngest American in space.

“I think that maybe it’s too bad that our society isn’t further along, and that this is such a big deal.” -- Sally Ride, May 24, 1983

Less than a month later, Ride would be the first American woman and the youngest person to enter space.

At the time, Miss Baker sent her a telegram welcoming her to the “Great Sorority of Space.”

Miss Baker was a squirrel monkey — the oldest known squirrel monkey and the only still-living animal known, at the time, to have flown to space.

Jane Fonda was present for the launch but too tired to attend a pre-launch reception hosted by NASA. Her then-husband, California Assemblyman Tom Hayden attended in her place, and he didn’t lack for enthusiasm when it came to women in science. He was quoted as saying, “Every little girl in America will think it’s normal to endure and excel in the space program. This will encourage them to aspire not just to their equal share of civil rights, but also to equal participation in high-tech industries in the future.”

That was nearly 30 years ago.

Today, the campaign to encourage young women to take a place at the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) table continues — and it is a campaign Ride was very much a part of. Her death at the age of 61 from pancreatic cancer was a blow to the scientific community not only because of her place in history but because of her years of work afterwards — all while purposefully avoiding the spotlight. Ride advised presidents, served as a physics professor at the University of California San Diego and directed the California Space Institute. She founded Sally Ride Science in 2001, to encourage boys and girls to pursue STEM subjects. The program also had a particular focus on society’s perception of girls in math and science as well.

But, at the time of her flight in 1983, the focus of news coverage was almost entirely on Ride’s gender and what it could mean for women in science. Nevermind that the flight produced a number of firsts: Ride was the youngest American to travel to space; the flight marked the first re-flight of an astronaut on the space shuttle (Robert L. Crippen) and Challenger was the first shuttle to have a planned end of mission landing.

The following are a collection of reprints from the Washington Post’s coverage of Ride’s historic voyage, and reactions at the time.


The Washington Post front page on the day astronaut Sally Ride traveled to space, making her the first American woman to travel to space. The Washington Post's Thomas O'Toole wrote, "The first American woman to rocket into space stood as ready as her name suggests to ride the space shuttle Challenger into orbit on Saturday with four male astronauts and make space history." (The Washington Post)

Page A6 of The Washington Post on June 18, 1983 featured a small story on the telegram sent to Sally Ride by Miss Baker, at the time the "oldest known squirrel monkey and the only still-living animal known to have flown in space." The piece described Miss Baker as "the first female put into space by the United States in 24 years" prior to Ride's voyage. (The Washington Post)

The front page of the Style section on June 18, 1983. A piece by Tom Zito (middle of the page) chronicles the significance of Sally Ride's historic voyage to space as the first American woman to do so. "This is a great day for women," Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University student Susan Treadwell was quoted as saying. "It's about time we go to go along." (The Washington Post)

The Washington Post front page the day following Ride's historic launch. Ride's trip aboard Challenger made her the first American woman to go to space. The Russians had sent two women previously. Ride was recruited with five other women in 1978 to train in the astronaut program, waiting five years before her first flight. (The Washington Post)

Page A6 of The Washington Post on July 19, 1983, the day after Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel to space. In attendance at the launch were actress Jane Fonda and her then-husband California Assemblyman Tom Hayden (photo, top right). At the time, Edward Teller, father of the H-bomb said that, shortly after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, "I testified to Congress, and I was asked what I thought about women astronauts. I said all astronauts should be women because they weigh less and have more sense." (The Washington Post)

Ride was also remembered on Twitter, with tweets from numerous sources, including the Smithsonian:

In-flight suit worn by Sally Ride in June 1983 when she became the 1st American woman in space. On exhibit @ instagr.am/p/NdwH9smHmS/

— Smithsonian (@smithsonian) July 24, 2012

Actor LeVar Burton:

I was afraid that was why #SallyRide was trending...#spacepioneerMay Angels guide thee to thy rest!

— LeVar Burton (@levarburton) July 23, 2012

The commercial space exploration company SpaceX, which recently made spaceflight history:

Very sad news on the passing of Sally Ride. A true inspiration.

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 23, 2012

And astronaut Buzz Aldrin:

So sorry to hear of the loss of my friend and fellow astronaut Sally Ride. You will always be an inspiration for women and space.

— Buzz Aldrin (@TheRealBuzz) July 24, 2012

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