Today in 1983, NASA astronaut Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She launched as a mission specialist of the 5-person crew of STS-7 aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Sally Ride was one of just 35 people selected out of 8,000 who applied for NASA Astronaut Group 8 in 1978. She had applied after seeing the agency had begun accepting women for the astronaut program in the Stanford student newspaper. The same year Ride was selected to be a part of NASA’s astronaut program, she earned her PhD in physics with a focus in astrophysics and free electron lasers.
After graduating from the astronaut training program, Ride served as the ground-based capsule communicator (CapCom) for the second and third space shuttle missions. During this time, she was also part of the team that developed the space shuttle’s Canadarm robotic arm and became an expert in its use, a speciality that would be important in her selection for STS-7.
On April 30, 1982, NASA announced that Ride would be part of the STS-7. She was selected as a mission specialist for her expertise with the Canadarm and would be the first to operate the robotic arm in space.
Prior to the launch of STS-7, Ride was subjected to extreme media attention. During multiple press conferences, she was asked a number of ridiculous questions including, “Will this flight affect your reproductive organs?”, “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” and “What makeup are you taking with you?”
A little less than a year after her selection on June 18, 1983, Ride and her four crewmates blasted off from the Kennedy Space Centre. The crew would spend just over six days in orbit returning to Earth on June 24, 1983. The mission was the first to feature a woman as part of the crew, the largest crew in a single spaceflight, and the first spaceflight to have jelly beans onboard, which had been supplied personally by President Ronald Reagan.