For years, whenever I heard Wilson Pickett sing “Ride Sally, ride” in the classic tune “Mustang Sally,” I thought he was singing “Ride, Sally Ride”—for astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. It still makes sense to me, although I now know the song was first released in 1965, and Sally made her historic flight two decades later.
While my contemporaries and I were playing dress-up in our mothers’ satin pumps and imagining glamorous exploits for Barbie and her chums, Sally was paving the way for a whole new universe of possibilities for girls. With a BA, BS, and a master’s degree in physics, she was a PhD candidate in astrophysics looking for new challenges when she responded to an ad in the newspaper. Over 8,000 people applied, only 35 were accepted, of which six were women. In 1978, Sally joined NASA’s space program.
Her giant leap for womankind occurred on June 18, 1983, aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. During the 6 days, 2 hours, 23 minutes, 59 seconds of Mission STS-7, Mission Specialist 2 Sally K. Ride and her four crewmembers deployed two satellites and conducted numerous experiments. They traveled 2.2 million miles and orbited Earth 97 times. Her favorite part was being weightless: “I could do 30 somersaults in a row and slither like a seal from one side of the cabin to the other,” she said. “And of course we couldn’t resist playing a little bit with our food!”
Sally is childfree, but she has spent the intervening years raising future astronauts. She has made it her mission here on Earth to show kids that science is cool. She has written several books on space aimed at kids and, in 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a company dedicated to encouraging and supporting boys’ and girls’ interests in science, math, and technology.
Maybe one day she’ll return to space. As it stands now, Sally took her second and final space ride in 1984. Guess what was played as her morning wake-up song?
Kathleen Guthrie is a Northern California–based freelance writer. She’s finding inspiration in the stories of many of our “cheroes” (heroes who are childfree) as we celebrate National Women’s History Month.