20th Anniversary Of Sally's Ride

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, is shown while talking with members of the Nevada Women's Fund in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, May 13, 2003. Ride on Tuesday said it's ``unfortunate'' Annika Sorenstam is being criticized for trying to become the first woman to compete on the PGA Tour in 58 years. ``It is a little bit surprising,'' Ride said Tuesday before a speech to the Nevada Women's Fund. AP

Twenty years ago Wednesday, and 20 years and two days after the Soviet Union sent the first woman into orbit, the United States caught up with Women's Lib.

On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to make the trip into space, after answering a newspaper ad six years earlier. She was graduated from the astronaut program in 1978, one of five women in that class.

"Ride was an instant celebrity; schoolchildren everywhere knew her name," says the NASA Web site. "In an instant, little girls learned that even the sky wasn't the limit."

An early 1960s group of female recruits never flew, reports CBS News Correspondent Peter King, but by the late 1970s, NASA realized it needed astronauts for the shuttle program.

More than 30 North American and European women have flown in space now, including Eileen Collins, the first woman shuttle commander and due to command NASA's first mission when flights resume following the Columbia accident.

According to NASA, 26 out of about 144 U.S. astronauts and astronaut managers are women today.

As for Sally Ride, she made a second spaceflight, and then left NASA. However, she served on Rogers Commission investigation of the Challenger Accident and is now on the Columbia accident investigation board.

Ride also did research at the California Space Institute in San Diego, and is on leave from the Physics Department of the University of California San Diego. She now presents educational outreach seminars for young girls and teachers, and conducts space camps.

"One of the main goals of the Sally Ride Space Camp is to instill self-confidence and self-reliance in young girls," says the Web site of the camp.

This weekend, she will be inducted with three other shuttle legends into the Astronaut Hall Of Fame near the Kennedy Space Center.

By Lloyd A. de Vries and Peter King
  • Lloyd Vries

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