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Women in Science: Astronautics

The Perfect Match

From uncharted lands to the depths of the ocean, to the vast expanse of space, women have taken their love of science and adventure with them to more places than we can possibly imagine. While some women focused on breaking the glass ceiling on Earth, others focused on a glass ceiling that would take them much higher than the atmosphere.

Sally Ride

Born: May 26, 1951

Died: July 23, 2012


Born in Los Angeles, Sally Ride’s interests in her younger years were many, but she continued on to Stanford University to study physics and English, receiving bachelor’s degrees for both in 1973, her master’s in physics in 1975, and a Ph.D. in 1978.

After graduating her doctoral program she entered NASA’s astronaut program, beating out 1,000 other applicants for the spot. Completing the training, at 32 years old she became the youngest American, and first American woman in space on June 18, 1983, climbing aboard the space shuttle Challenger as a mission specialist. She repeated the run again in October of 1984, once again as mission specialist. Her third run, however, was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986, which prompted her position on the presidential commission to investigate the accident. In 2003, she became the only person to serve on both investigative panels, looking into the breakup of the shuttle Columbia upon reentry.

After leaving NASA in 1987, she took up a position at the University of California in San Diego, becoming the director of the California Space Institute. In 1989, she also added physics professor to her list of accomplishments, continuing her passion in helping women and girls find a place in studying science and mathematics. Wanting to do even more for the generations that have yet to come, she and her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, founded the non-profit organization known as Sally Ride Science in 2001, which is dedicated to promoting learning and careers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) among women and girls all over the world.

Dr. Ride passed away in 2012, survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam, who became the executive director of Sally Ride Science and continued its mission to help girls discover and nurture their passion for the STEM fields.

If you want to learn more about Sally Ride and her work, check out these books in our collections. 

Mae Jemison

Born: October 17, 1956


Mae Jemison became the first African-American female astronaut after flying aboard the Endeavour in 1992. In her early years, she became fascinated with the sciences, but specifically astronomy. In high school, she focused on biomedical engineering, and pursued that into college, being admitted to Stanford University on the National Achievement Scholarship. Graduating in 1977, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering, then entered Cornell University Medical College, obtaining her M.D. in 1981. After interning and working at the LA County/University of Southern California Medical Center as a general practitioner, she entered the Peace Corps for two and a half years as a medical officer stationed in Sierra Leone and Liberia. However, once she returned to the United States in 1985, she decided to pursue her long-time dream and applied for NASA’s astronaut training program. Unfortunately, the Challenger disaster in 1986 delayed the program’s selection process, but after applying a year later, she became one of 15 in a pool of 2,000 chosen for the next class, becoming the first African-American woman admitted to the program.

Her title for the Endeavor mission was Science Mission Specialist- giving her the responsibility for conducting crew-related scientific experiments while in the shuttle. During the eight days the crew spent in space, she researched weightlessness and motion sickness in the crew, including herself. Her accomplishments showered her with awards and praise, as well as a few honorary doctorates. After leaving the space program in 1993, Dr. Jemison accepted a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth College and established the Jemison Group, a company that focuses on researching, developing, and marketing advanced technologies.

If you want to learn more about Mae Jemison and her work, check out these books in our collections.