Remembering Astronaut Sally Ride's Historic Journey

Thirty years ago Tuesday, Sally Ride became the first American woman to fly in space. She was aboard the shuttle Challenger. Less than three years later, it would explode on takeoff, killing seven crew members.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

NASA introduced eight new astronauts yesterday. The space agency says they will lay the groundwork for missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

For the first time, half the new astronauts are women whose paths can be traced back to an event that happened 30 years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: T-minus-10, nine, eight, seven, six, we go for main start - we have main engine start - and ignition and liftoff. Liftoff of SES 7 and America's first woman astronaut. And the shuttle has cleared the tower.

GREENE: Onboard that space shuttle, 32-year-old mission specialist Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

SALLY RIDE: I guess that I was maybe more excited about getting a chance to fly early than I was about getting to be the first woman. I think that it's a real experience and the experience of a lifetime.

INSKEEP: Still, it was inevitable that other people would focus on Sally Ride's gender. That subject came up in a news conference a year before her launch into space.

(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: When there was a problem, when there was a funny glitch or whatever, how did you respond? How do you take it as a human being? Do you weep? Do you - what do you do?

RIDE: Why doesn't anybody ask Rick those questions?

GREENE: Ride was referring there to her crewmate Rick Hauck. On the day the shuttle carried Ride into space, the crowd at the Kennedy Space Center including feminist leader Gloria Steinem.

GLORIA STEINEM: For all of us who grew up never seeing a woman who was a police officer, a judge, a scientist, you know, made us feel that we could not be those things. So, for a little girl could see this on television and to see all over the world is a big help.

INSKEEP: Sally Ride went into space in the Shuttle Challenger. Less than three years after that mission when Challenger was heading into space again, it would explode shortly after launch, killing all seven crewmembers.

GREENE: Ride served on the commission investigating that disaster. Months after the tragedy, she spoke to MORNING EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

RIDE: I think it's very important that we try and rebuild the NASA - I don't want to say image because that sounds a little bit superficial - but really get back to basics at NASA and get back to what people expect us to be.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3, BYLINE: You would fly again?

RIDE: I would fly again.

GREENE: Sally Ride did not fly again. She retired from NASA not long after that interview, dedicating the rest of her life to encouraging children - girls especially - to pursue careers in science and engineering.

INSKEEP: She was also called upon by NASA, again, to help investigate a disaster - the Shuttle Columbia disaster in 2003. And she told us then that she still believed in exploring space.

RIDE: All you need to do is look into the eyes of the kids growing up today. When you mention astronauts, the planets, the space program to them, their eyes just light up. It really captivates them and it ignites something deep inside of all of us.

INSKEEP: The late Sally Ride became the first American woman in space 30 years ago today.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) All you want to do is ride around, Sally ride...

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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Correction June 18, 2013

A previous Web introduction incorrectly called Sally Ride the first woman in space. Ride was the first American woman in space.

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