Most women who break the glass ceiling in their respective professional fields aren't burdened by the added pressure of having the whole world watching. But when astronaut Sally Ride went up on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, she pushed beyond more than the earth's atmosphere. She was the first U.S. woman in space, an achievement that was long overdue considering that the first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, set that record two decades earlier. Yet Ride occupies two spots on the timeline of the history of the U.S. in space. So much emphasis was placed on Ride's gender that few realized that she was also the youngest American in space at age 32.
Initially Ride responded not to the call of space but to a help wanted ad in her campus newspaper. She applied to the astronaut training program the first year that women were accepted. Out of 8,000 applicants, 35 were chosen. Sally Ride was one of 6 women. While one popular TV show of the 1960s famously described space as "the final frontier," that frontier was opened by Ride on June 18, 1983 when she was the most famous crew member of the seventh shuttle flight.
Sally Ride passed away earlier today after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was just 61 years old.