Famous People Mini-Unit

Famous Person: SALLY RIDE

Related Topics:

Outer Space
Space Shuttle
Women's Movement

Grade Level: 4th/5th

Author: Diane Sanderson


On June 27, 1983, Sally Ride made history when she became the first American woman to go into space. Ride and five other astronauts were on board the Challenger space shuttle for six days.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles, California. Her favorite pastime as a child was exploring with a telescope and playing tennis. She was always fascinated by the planets, stars, and galaxies as she matured, but never thought about becoming an astronaut.

In 1968 she graduated from Westlake Girls' High School in Los Angeles, were she studied math and science. She was very involved in sports, particularly tennis. She took lessons from champion Alice Marble, and also competed in national tournaments. She was once rated eighteenth nationally. By the time she was in college, Ride had an important decision to make. She chose to further her education over becoming a professional tennis player. She graduated from Stanford University in 1973, with a double bachelor's degree in English and physics. She went on to receive her Masters of Science and Doctorate from Stanford in 1975 and 1978.

While working at Stanford, Ride read a notice in the campus newspaper that NASA was looking for scientists who wanted to become astronauts. She knew this would be the perfect opportunity for her to see the Earth and stars from outer space.

A big change took place in 1978. The first women were admitted into the astronaut program, one of them being Sally Ride. Everyone wondered how valuable the six women would be to the program. It didn't take long for the officials at NASA to realize that the women knew as much as or more than the men. Several of the women astronauts believe that the opportunity for women in space came because of the women's movoment. There was a push for equal opportunity in jobs and more and more women were being hired.

Sally was selected in April 1982 to be the first American woman in space. This also meant she would be thirty-two when she went into space, which would make her the youngest American astronaut ever to go into space. Ride was more excited to go into space than to be the first women to go there.

Also in April 1982, she was a capsule communicator for the shuttle Columbia. She was the first women to have this privilege.

The flight in 1983 was a turning point for women in the astronaut program. Sally Ride was a member of the Challenger crew that launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and was in orbit for 6 days (147 hours). While in orbit, Ride's most important job was to operate the robot manipulator system (RMS). It is a mechanical arm which is manipulated from inside the shuttle. It can be used to launch satellites or collect them from orbit. These satellites are an aid in learning about the weather, landmasses, weather resources, pollution, and also aid in defense and communications (O'Connor, 13). Two satellites were launched and one was retrieved during the orbit.

In October 1984, Ride made a second flight aboard the Challenger. Her companions on this 8-day (197 hours) mission were four fellow astronauts, one being another woman, and two civilian scientists.

In June 1985, Ride was scheduled for a third space shuttle flight. The flight was cancelled in January 1986 by the space shuttle Challenger explosion which killed all members on board. Ride served on the Presidential commission that investigated the shuttle accident. She was also assigned to NASA's Office of Exploration and produced a report on the future of the space program entitled "Leadership and America's Future in Space".

Ride joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego in 1989, where she is a Professor of Physics. She is also Director of the California Space Institute which is a research institute of the university.

Sally Ride is the author of To Space & Back, published in 1986. It is a children's book that describes her experiences in space. Her second book, Voyager: An Adventure to the edge of the Solar System, was published in 1992. The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space is her latest book. She has received the Jefferson Award for Public Service and has been awarded the National Spaceflight Medal, twice. Ride recognizes the history she has made, but gives the women's movement credit for opening doors in science and space exploration to women. She has become a role model for young women everywhere. "When I go out and give talks at schools, and an eight-year-old girl in the audience raises her hand to ask me what she needs to do to become an astronaut, I like that," she has said (Explorers, 206. 1994).



North American Biographies. (1994). Volume 4: Explorers. Danbury, CT: Grolier Educational Corporation.

O'Connor, Karen. (1983). Sally Ride and the New Astronauts. New York, NY: Franklin Watts.

Ride, Sally, & Susan Okie. (1986). To Space & Back. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.

Ride, Sally K., PH,D. (1994). [On-line]. Available:


The Objectives:

1. Students will be able to predict the environment around a person

as they launch off into space.

2. Students will be able to analyze an actual description of a journey

into space.

3. Students will be able to describe the achievements and

contributions made by Sally Ride.

4. Students will be able to organize important information on the life

of Sally Ride.

5. Students will recognize the value of gaining an education.

Time Allotment: Approximately 1 week or 5 class periods

Resources Needed:

Student's journal

To Space & Back by Sally Ride

Background information sheet for each student

Guest Speaker (space engineering student from a university)


1. Focus Journal. In their journal, have students give their opinion of what it would be like to launch off into outer space in a space shuttle. Have them include what it might feel like, look like, sound like, and any thoughts that might be going through their mind as they are darting up and away from the Earth's atmosphere.


2. Mini Lecture. After the students are focused on a journey into space, introduce Sally Ride. Explain that in 1983, she became the first American woman to go into space. Inform the students that she has written a children's book entitled To Space & Back, and in the book she explains what it is like to leave the ground and journey off into outer space. Read Sally Ride's description in, To Space & Back, found on pages 17-27. Have students analyze their journal predictions and compare it to Sally Ride's description. On a new journal paper, have students record 3 predictions from their journal that are correct according to Sally Ride's experience and 3 of their ideas that were not mentioned in the book.


3. Cooperative Groups. Explain to the students that people who have made history and have become heros, usually have major achievements and contributions. Using the background information above, the students can learn more about important achievements and contributions made by Sally Ride. Give each student a copy of the background information and list on the board dates the students need to look for as they read. (For example, May 26, 1951, 1968, 1973, etc.) The more dates for students to find, the better. Individually, have students read the information and find specified dates and the corresponding event. In pairs, have students share their findings so they can fill in any dates that are missing. In large group, have students contribute to a class list of the achievement/contribution that corresponds with a specified date.


4. Timeline. Using the class list, have students individually make a timeline on Sally Ride's history. Students can use a timeline computer program to generate their timeline, if available. If not, they can draw and fill-in their own timeline.


5. Guest Speaker. Sally Ride worked very hard to be where she is today. After reminding students that Sally Ride has become a role model and that many new opportunities have come about because of her, have a female graduate student who is majoring in Space Engineering (preferably one who would like to be accepted into an astronaut program) come in and speak to the children. Have her stress the importance of an education, especially a post-education. She can share ways in which she is following in Sally Ride's footsteps.


6. Learning Journal. In a learning journal, have each student write an entry which tells three important things they have learned in their study of Sally Ride.


1. The focus journal will be used to assess prior knowledge.

2. Comprehension of Sally Ride's flight experience will be assessed

through their journal comparison.

3. Contributions to cooperative groups and group list of

achievements/contributions will be assessed informally through


4. Timeline for each person will be assessed on content and accuracy.

5. Paper on three important ideas they have gained from mini-unit will

be assessed.

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