May 26 is Sally Ride Day, a time to commemorate one of the most inspiring people in American history. So, who exactly was Sally Ride? Well, the first thing you should know about her was that she was the first American woman to fly in space; not only that, she was also the youngest American astronaut to travel to space at the age of 32. In addition to being an accomplished astronaut, she was also a highly respected physicist.
On May 26, 1951, Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California to Dale Burdell Ride and Carol Joyce. She graduated from Portola Junior High and went to Westlake School for Girls on a scholarship. She showed great promise in the sciences and in tennis (she was a nationally-ranked player). At Swarthmore College, she graduated with a bachelor’s in both English and physics. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in physics at Stanford while working with X-rays and their interaction with the interstellar medium.
When the Stanford newspaper featured a NASA ad that sought applicants for a space program, Sally Ride put in her name along with 8,000 others. In 1978, NASA took her on the team. Being the first American woman to travel in space, Ride faced scrutiny by the media but handled them gracefully. When asked questions about her status as a female astronaut, she emphasized her role as an astronaut over her being a woman.
During her career as NASA, Sally Ride embarked on two Challenger missions and amounted more than 343 hours in space. She helped investigate both the Challenger and Columbia space shuttle disasters. Her exceptional work got her noticed at Washington, D.C., where she founded NASA’s Office of Exploration.
After NASA, she worked at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. She also held a professorship at the University of California, San Diego in the physics department. In 2001, she co-founded Sally Ride Science, a company that strived to make science appealing for upper elementary and middle school students, especially girls.
Sally Ride accomplished so much by the time she passed away on July 23, 2012 that it would take many more words to cover them all. She was truly an inspiring individual who more than deserved a national holiday to be named after her. Let us all remember her life and accomplishments on May 26!