Dr. Sally Ride was a teacher, physicist, astronaut, pioneer, and icon. She is most commonly renowned as the first American woman to fly in space, but her career and contributions spanned much more.
She was a champion of diversity in science education who cofounded Sally Ride Science
, now part of UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies, to inspire girls and boys of all backgrounds in STEM (science, technology, education, and math).
Most recently, Ride was posthumously recognized by Northrop Grumman when the aerospace technology company named its Cygnus mission
to the International Space Station (ISS) in her honor.
Each Cygnus spacecraft is named in honor of an individual who made significant contributions to the U.S. space program and human spaceflight. Previous Cygnus missions were named after astronaut John Glenn, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, and Ellison Onizuka, the first Asian-American person in space.
Kathy Warden, Northrop Grumman president and chief executive officer, said in an October announcement, “Every day, our Northrop Grumman teams work to advance humanity’s understanding of the universe. This includes our Cygnus spacecraft and its critical cargo missions to the International Space Station. It's my honor to announce that our next Cygnus spacecraft will be named after pioneer, STEM advocate and the first American female in space, Dr. Sally Ride.”
What is the Cygnus Mission?
The Cygnus is a type of uncrewed spacecraft created by Northrop Grumman to carry out critical resupply missions to the International Space Station.
The Cygnus spacecraft “S.S. Sally Ride” launched into orbit on November 7, 2022, using an Antares 230+ rocket. Its mission was to carry nearly 8,265 pounds of supplies, equipment, and scientific experiments to the astronauts aboard the ISS. The spacecraft also served as a temporary laboratory and provided a critical reboost service that helped the ISS maintain its orbit and altitude.
The Cygnus spacecraft successfully berthed to the ISS on November 9, 2022. The journey experienced some issues as one of the two solar arrays did not deploy as planned, but the spacecraft was still able to collect enough solar energy from the array that it did deploy to complete the journey.
Cygnus is scheduled to remain attached to the ISS until late January 2023. When it departs, it will take with it roughly 8,200 pounds of disposal cargo and will be set for a destructive reentry as it enters the Earth’s atmosphere.
A Pioneer and a Legacy
Ride became the first American female astronaut to fly in space when she served on the crew of the second flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. She also became the youngest American astronaut to have flown in space, having done so at the age of 32.
In 1989, Ride became a professor of physics at UC San Diego, a role she held for nearly two decades.
In her time in San Diego, Ride and her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, began collaborating to write science books for young people. They shared concerns about the lack of women in science and engineering careers and equity in science education in general. To help narrow the gap, they came up with the idea of starting an education company.
In 2001, they collaborated with three other colleagues to found Sally Ride Science
, an organization aimed at improving STEM literacy for children, especially girls. The organization has gone on to host more than 100 science festivals across the country, publish 90 science books for upper elementary and middle school students, and train hundreds of educators on how to incorporate diverse role models into science lessons.
In 2015, three years after Ride’s passing, Sally Ride Science was incorporated as a nonprofit under the direction of the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies. The organization’s mission continues to be to help build STEM literacy and to promote diversity in STEM studies and careers.