How Sally Ride became America’s first woman in space

When Sally Ride flew into orbit aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, she made history. As the first American woman in space, Ride helped change perceptions about what women could accomplish and inspired a new generation of girls to reach for the stars. But Ride was more than an icon for the U.S. space program — she also was a complex, private woman with singular talents and skills, who continued to contribute to science and education until her untimely death from pancreatic cancer in 2012.

In “Sally Ride: America’s First Woman in Space,” award-winning journalist Lynn Sherr recounts Ride’s fascinating life. We learn about Ride’s upbringing in California, where as a teenager she made a name for herself on the tennis circuit. We follow Ride as she applies — along with 8,000 other Americans — to become part of NASA’s first integrated shuttle team in the late ’70s. We are walked through the NASA interview process and the exhaustive training it takes to become an astronaut.

Through Sherr’s retelling, we relive triumphs such as Ride’s first trip into space and disasters such as the catastrophic explosion of the Challenger in 1986 and the disintegration of the Columbia space shuttle in 2003. Ride served on investigative committees that reviewed both shuttle disasters. Through dozens of interviews and a few precious letters from Ride, we begin to understand her curiosity and determination, twin qualities that helped her break down barriers and succeed on what had once been the all-male playing field of space exploration.

Sherr offers a unique perspective as Ride’s biographer. She reported on NASA’s space shuttle program from 1981 to 1986 for ABC News, where she met and became friends with Ride. Sherr’s professional insights into the space program are invaluable, as is her personal recounting of the life of her friend, who, despite her high-profile accomplishments, preferred to stay out of the spotlight, especially when it concerned her private life. It wasn’t until after Ride’s death that the world was introduced to her female partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.

Sally Ride was a physicist, a feminist and an astronaut who went on to became an educator of young girls and a champion of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields. Sherr’s biography sheds a bright light on this multifaceted woman, who became one of NASA’s brightest stars.

Bob Kustra is president of Boise State University and host of Reader’s Corner, a weekly radio show on Boise State Public Radio. Reader’s Corner airs Fridays at 6 p.m. and repeats Sundays at 11 a.m. on KBSX 91.5 FM. An interview with Sherr will air in August. Previous shows are online and available for podcast at Download our free player from the iTunes App and Google Play stores to listen to previous interviews anytime. Search for “Reader’s Corner.”