Twenty years and two days after Russia’s Valentina Tereshkova flew, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, when she took off aboard the shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. Ride was part of the astronaut class of 1978—made up of 6 women and 25 men and collectively known as “the 35 new guys.” OK, so the nickname didn’t fit, but Ride, a PhD physicist, shrugged it off. In 1963, when Congress was conducting hearings to determine the suitability of women in space, John Glenn—already a national hero—testified that “men go off and fight the wars and fly the airplanes.” And, of course, the spacecraft too. Ride knew the historical score as well as anyone and set out to settle it once and for all—which she did both with her 1983 flight and a return to orbit in 1984. She came home safely to Earth—and to a permanent place in the space travel pantheon.
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