FFor Ride, a theoretical astrophysicist, the real accomplishment of her debut journey into space was an experiment in which a 50-foot robotic arm was maneuvered to grasp a three-ton satellite hurtling above Earth.
Ride would fly to space only more time, in a 197-hour mission again aboard the Challenger. It included observations of the Earth using satellites and high-tech cameras.
She had been scheduled to make a third trip, but it was canceled after the Challenger exploded Jan. 28, 1986, killing six NASA astronauts and teacher Christa McAuliffe. After serving on a presidential commission investigating the disaster, Ride resigned from NASA and turned to academia, as a physics professor at the University of California at San Diego. In 1986, she and former Washington Post staff writer Susan Okie published, “To Space and Back,” a book describing Ride’s astronaut career.
In the decades afterward, she shunned opportunities that would have placed her in the spotlight.
Sally Kristen Ride was born May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles. Her father was a political science professor at Santa Monica College, and her mother helped found the Mary Magdalene Project, which helps prostitutes escape the streets. As a teenager, Ride had excelled as an athlete, especially in tennis, where she learned to think quickly.
Despite her skill, she decided to stop playing. At Stanford University, she demonstrated wide-ranging intellectual interests, from physics to literature.
At Stanford, Ride answered a college newspaper advertisement and applied for a position at NASA. She beat out 8,370 other applicants and, armed with a doctorate in physics from Stanford, joined the astronaut corps in 1978.
NASA needed more astronauts for the shuttles, with a large schedule of flights planned. For the first time, the agency opened the corps to scientists — and to women.
The June 1983 launch that sent Ride into orbit was carried on television and considered a historic occasion.
On her first flight, Ride served as a mission specialist, the title given to scientist astronauts. Using the robotic arm, she helped deploy a 3,300 pound satellite into space and then, using the arm again, recaptured it and brought the device back into the shuttle’s cargo bay. The experiment demonstrated the feasibility for NASA to recover broken satellites, repair them aboard the shuttle and release them back into orbit.
Ride’s marriage to astronaut Steve Hawley ended in divorce. Survivors include her mother, Joyce; and a sister. She is also survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy. The two women co-authored several books, including “The Third Planet” (1994), which won the American Institute of Physics Children’s Science Writing Award.