Sally Kristen Ride was the first American woman to be sent into outer space in 1983 and the first American woman to make two space flights. Ride's first flight was in the space shuttle Challenger in June 1983. Among the team's missions were deployment of international satellites and numerous research experiments supplied by a number of groups—ranging from a naval research lab to high school students. While operating the shuttle's robot arm, she handled the first satellite deployment and retrieval, the first time such an arm had been used in space during flight. Her second flight was also in the Challenger in October 1984. This time, the robot arm was used to readjust a radar antenna on the shuttle as well as to deploy and capture a satellite. Objectives on this mission covered scientific observations of the Earth and demonstrations of potential satellite-refueling techniques. Ride was chosen for a third scheduled flight, but it was canceled after the Challenger exploded in January 1986. She was the only astronaut chosen for the commission investigating the mid-launch explosion of the Challenger, which killed all crewmembers aboard.
Ride created NASA's Office of Exploration, and she was also the first woman astronaut to leave the space program when she quietly resigned in 1987 to join the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control. She went on to become director of the California Space Institute and physics professor at the University of California, San Diego. Ride was always been committed to science education, and during her tenure at NASA, she regularly addressed students at high schools and colleges about careers in science and engineering. In 2001, she created Sally Ride Science, an organization that encourages girls to study science, and she established an interactive educational Internet site, Space.com. She published three children's books about space: To Space and Back (1986), Voyager: An Adventure to the Edge of the Solar System (1992), and The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space (1994).
Ride was appointed a member of the Presidential Commission of Advisors on Science and Technology in 1994, and she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service from the American Institute for Public Service (1984) and two National Spaceflight Medals (recognizing her shuttle missions of 1983 and 1984). At the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., there is a model of Sally Ride in her space uniform honoring her as the first American woman in space.
Ride died of pancreatic cancer on July 23, 2012, at which time it was made public that she had a long-term lesbian relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy, with whom Ride had coauthored several children's books in the sciences.
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