Starting with people like Merit-Ptah (c. 2700 BCE), a chief physician in ancient Egypt, and Greek astronomer Aglaonice (2nd or 1st century BC), women scientists have been making their mark for millennia. They've made significant contributions as chemists, doctors, educators, entomologists, horticulturalists, marine biologists, paleontologists, physicists, marine biologists, naturalists, science writers, zoologists, and more.

Not the least of these accomplishments have been in space. Cosmonaut Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova flew a solo mission on the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963. Another cosmonaut, Svetlana Yevgenyevna Savitskaya, flew in space twice — in 1982 and 1984 — and was the first women to perform a spacewalk.

The first American woman in space, Sally Ride, went on two space shuttle missions: STS-7 (June 18, 1983) and STS-41-G (October 5, 1984), breaking through a quarter-century of white male astronauts with the help of her PhD in physics. After her second flight, she served on panels that investigated the 1986 Challenger explosion and the 2003 Columbia disintegration, tragedies that killed all crew members aboard.

When Ride retired from NASA in 1987, she became a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control at Stanford University. In 1989, she joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. She and her life partner Tam O'Shaughnessy co-wrote seven science books for children. Together they founded the nonprofit Sally Ride Science at UC San Diego to promote science education and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers, especially for girls.

Ride served on multiple boards, including the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, the National Research Council’s Space Studies Board, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, the Carnegie Institution of Washington, and the NCAA Foundation. She received many honors. Her honors included induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame, two NASA Space Flight Medals, the National Space grant Distinguished Service Award, and a posthumous award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. In 2014 the U.S. Navy christened a research vessel Sally Ride in her honor, and in 2018 the U.S. Postal Service issued a Sally Ride Forever stamp.

To Name This Day . . .


Consider how you might use the ideas in one of Sally Ride's quotes below to inspire a young person — or yourself!

"I never went into physics or the astronaut corps to become a role model. But after my first flight, it became clear to me that I was one."
-- In Harvard Business Review (September 2012)

"The view of Earth is spectacular. The shuttle is pretty close to Earth. It only flies between 200 and 350 miles above Earth. It's really pretty close. So we don't see the whole planet, like the astronauts who went to the moon did. We can see much more detail. We can see cities during the day and at night, and we can watch rivers dump sediment into the ocean, and see hurricanes form. It's just a lot of fun and very interesting to look out the window."
— in an interview at Scholastic's website (November 20, 1998)

"There might be very primitive life in our solar system — single-cell animals, that sort of thing. We may know the answer to that in five or ten years. There is very likely to be life in other solar systems, in planets around other stars. But we won't know about that for a long time."
— in an interview at Scholastic's website (November 20, 1998)

"We need to make science cool again."
— from "The Commencement Address Sally Ride Never Gave" by Lynn Sherr in Huffingtonpost (May 21, 2014)

Spiritual Practice

In her 1998 interview with Scholastic, Sally Ride remarked that "It takes a few years to prepare for a space mission. It takes a couple of years just to get the background and knowledge that you need before you can go into detailed training for your mission. So most astronauts are astronauts for a couple of years before they are assigned to a flight. Once you are assigned to a flight, the whole crew is assigned at the same time, and then that crew trains together for a whole year to prepare for that flight."

Consider the patience, keen attention, and perseverance that goes into fulfilling a dream on this scale. Find a way to reaffirm your commitment to those qualities for a project close to your own heart. You might write about this intention in your journal or make a vow in the presence of a friend or colleague.


You can learn more about Sally Ride by watching this three-minute bio: