Thursday, September 15, 2005

Apple #110: Sally Ride

As requested, here's some biographical information about Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to orbit the earth.

Dr. Sally Ride, prior to her first flight on Challenger

  • As a teenager, Dr. Ride wanted to be a professional tennis player, and for a while she was a ranked player on the junior tennis circuit.
  • In 1968, she enrolled at Swarthmore, but dropped out to pursue a career in professional tennis. After three months of training, she decided she was not good enough to be successful at a professional level. She then applied for and was accepted to Stanford University.
  • At Stanford, she earned two Bachelor's Degrees -- one in English and one in Physics -- and then went on to earn both a Master's and a Ph.D. in Physics. Her research interests included astrophysics, general relativity, and free-electron laser physics.
  • She applied to the astronaut program after reading an ad in the Stanford paper. More than 8,000 people applied that year. Of the 35 accepted, six were women, including Sally Ride. This was in 1978. She was 27 years old.
  • In 1979, she completed her mission training, which made her eligible for assignment on future space craft.
  • On the ground, she worked as the capsule communicatory officer for the 2nd and 3rd flights of the space shuttle Columbia.
  • In June of 1983, she became the first woman to orbit Earth, on board the space shuttle Challenger. While the shuttle's missions included deploying satellites and conducting various scientific experiments, Dr. Ride tested a robot arm that deployed and retrieved the satellites, and acted as flight engineer. Total mission time was 147 hours, or about 6 days. She has said of that flight, "I'm sure it was the most fun I'll ever have in my life."

Dr. Ride, on her first Challenger mission, floating in weightless space
Photo from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific

  • She flew on Challenger a second time, in 1984. On this flight, a much larger crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite, conducted scientific observations of the earth using a Large Format Camera, and demonstrated satellite refueling. Total mission time was 197 hours, or roughly 8 days.
  • Dr. Ride was training for a third mission when the Challenger exploded in 1986. Her mission was cancelled, and she was appointed to the Presidential Commission that investigated the accident. In 2003, after the shuttle Columbia disintegrated, she also served on the investigation of this accident. She is the only person to have served on both panels.
  • Following the Challenger investigation, she was assigned to NASA headquarters for long-range planning. In this capacity, she completed The Ride Report. This report made several recommendations for further space exploration, including a Space Station much more elaborate and well-supported than the current International Space Station. Another recommendation, that a permanent lunar base be established prior to exploring Mars, disappointed many who thought we'd explored the moon enough.
  • In 1987, she retired from the astronaut corps and joined the faculty at her alma mater, Stanford. There, she became the Science Fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control.
  • In 1989, she moved to the University of California at San Diego, where she taught physics and directed the California Space Institute until 1996.
  • She began a series of programs to educate young students, including EarthKAM, an Internet-based NASA project that allows middle school classes to take photos of the Earth from space and to download those photos.
  • She currently sponsors the Sally Ride Science Festivals, which offer activities and workshops for girls, their parents, and their teachers, with talks from astronauts, microbiologists, engineers, oceanographers, veterinarians, and other scientists. The next Sally Ride Festival is coming up soon, on September 24, 2005, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
  • She also established the Sally Ride Science Club, an association for young girls and their parents and teachers "to empower girls to explore the world of science."
  • Her company, Sally Ride Science, runs both the club and the festivals. Dr. Ride is the President and CEO of this company.

Dr. Ride in 2005 (from Florida Today)

  • She has written several children's books, including
    • To Space and Back
    • Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System
    • The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space
    • The Mystery of Mars
    • Exploring our Solar System
  • Dr. Ride has received numerous awards, including:
    • National Spaceflight Medal (twice)
    • Jefferson Award for Public Service
    • American Women Award, given by the Women's Research and Education Institute
    • Member, National Women's Hall of Fame
    • Member, Astronaut Hall of Fame, inducted 2003
  • Some quotes from Dr. Ride:
    • "If they asked me if I wanted to go into space tomorrow, I'd do it in a heartbeat."
    • [When the space shuttle took off on its first mission,] "I didn't know whether I was going to be exhilirated or terrified. Actually what washed over me and what blanked out my mind was a feeling of complete helplessness, like there was so much power that there was nothing that I could do to change what was happening."
Great question, Anonymous Monsieur! Keep 'em coming!

NASA's StarChild pages, Dr. Sally Ride
NASA's Johnson Space Center pages, Biographical Data, Name: Sally K. Ride (Ph.D.)
NASA Kid Interview with Sally Ride
National Women's Hall of Fame, Sally Ride
Enchanted Learning, Zoom Explorers, Sally Ride: Astronaut
Wikipedia, Sally Ride
Lucidcafe, Sally Kristen Ride, First American Woman in Space
"Sally Ride is leaving NASA after making major contributions," Houston Chronicle, 9/21/1987

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