First American Woman in Space 

US #5283 was issued on May 23, 2018, in San Diego.

On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space.  She was the third woman overall, after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya.

Sally Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Encino, Los Angeles, California.  The older of two children, she was interested in science from a young age and was also a nationally ranked tennis player.

Ride studied at Swarthmore College and the University of California before earning her bachelor’s in English and physics from Stanford.  There went on to earn a masters and PhD in physics in 1975 and 1978.  Also in 1978, Stanford ran an ad in the student newspaper looking for people to join the space program.  Ride was among the 8,000 people who applied.

US #5283 – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Accepted to NASA in 1978, Ride started her career as the ground-based capsule communicator for the space shuttle as well as helping build the ship’s robotic arm.  Once it was announced that she would go into space aboard the Challenger mission STS-7, she received instant fame as America’s first female astronaut to go to space.  Despite this major milestone, Ride faced questions at press conferences that included “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” and “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”   But Ride insisted she only saw herself as an astronaut.

US #2544 – Challenger Priority Mail stamp.

On June 18, 1983, at 7:33 am, the STS-7 mission launched from the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  In addition to Ride becoming the first American woman in space, she was also the youngest American in space at age 32.  The flight was also notable in that it was the largest crew in a single spacecraft up to that time (five).  During that mission, the crew deployed two communications satellites and staged pharmaceutical experiments.  Ride was the first woman to use the robot arm in space and used it to grab a satellite.

US #2544Challenger Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

Ride made a second trip to space in 1984, again on the Challenger for STS-41-G. That mission was the first to carry seven people and the first to carry two American women – Ride and Kathryn Sullivan. Ride later underwent eight months of training for her third trip to space, but the Challenger disaster grounded all shuttles.  In her two missions, Ride spent over 343 hours in space.

Item #SPC1530 – Commemorative cover marking Ride’s death in 2012.

Ride went on to take part in the investigations of the Challenger and Columbia disasters, making her the only person to participate in both.  She also founded NASA’s Office of Exploration.  After her retirement from NASA in 1987, she became a professor of physics at the University of California and director of the California Space Institute. Ride also devoted much of her time to encouraging children, especially young girls, to pursue the sciences, founding her own nonprofit organization dedicated to the cause.

US #3410 – Ride spoke at the First Day ceremony for this stamp sheet.

Ride died on July 23, 2012.  She received many awards during and after her life.  These included the National Space Society’s von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, and two NASA Space Flight Medals.  She was also inducted to the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. In 2013, President Obama posthumously awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Today she is considered one of the most inspirational American women of all time.

Click here for photos from Ride’s NASA career and here for more about her life from the NASA website.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.



Did you like this article? Click here to rate:
Share this Article


  1. Wow, she died at 61, which by today’s standards is relatively young. An interesting article that brings to the forefront the contributions of women in the space program. I wonder about the press’ questions to her about her upcoming space flight. Shows how myopic the press corps can sometimes be. I wonder if they ever asked these same questions to the male astronauts before they embarked on their space missions? Truly a role model that passed on too soon.

    1. Sally Ride was also the first gay American in space. She had a wonderfully loving relationship with her female partner Tam O’Shaughnessy for 27 years. Sally’s family and close friends knew of their love for each other. Sally’s sister said that they considered Tam a member of their family.

      1. How does this really fit in with the article. Was Neil Armstrong being Hetero ever enter into ANY article about him. Lets keep the article about the accomplishment.

        1. Let me just say, my youngest daughter is gay and I am very proud of her, regardless of her orientation. I didn’t know Ms. Ride was gay, but that doesn’t add or subtract from her accomplishments. Its just nice to know that the science and space exploration community accepted her orientation too.

        2. It fits in because it is ABOUT her and, even today, being gay is considered “unusual.” Mr. Meneghini was both thoughtful and kindly in his comments (above). Homosexuality is NOT an “unmentionable” subject anymore. This is especially true when the subject is an internationally known celebrity. You’re right, it shouldn’t (and didn’t) make any difference but it is an unusual/little known aspect of Ms. Ride’s life. The mention of her lifestyle shouldn’t cause the reader to recoil in angst or defense. Ms. Ride is an American heroine and a shining example of accomplishment in spite of obstacles and bias.

  2. PLEASE PEOPLE You do not have to tell everything you know. Let ALL Americans admire her. What would it have hurt???

  3. Sally Ride figures prominently in Billy Joel’s chronology (1940’s-1980’s) “We didn’t start the fire”, landing between “wheel of fortune” and “heavy metal”.

  4. It’s relevant because unless it’s mentioned, she would be assumed to be straight. It fits in as much as any mention of someone’s wife, husband, and/or children, which, interestingly enough, never seems to be challenged.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *