Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she flew on the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. She took part in a second flight on the Challenger the following year.
Ride was at Stanford University pursuing a Ph.D. in physics in 1978 when she responded to a NASA ad seeking potential astronauts. She became one of the 35 selected out of the 8,000 who had applied. She underwent intensive training in 1978 and 1979. She was the communications officer for the second and third space shuttle flights and also helped to construct the shuttle's robotic arm.
During the 1983 Challenger mission, the crew used the shuttle's robotic arm for the first time. Between that mission and her second, Ride spent 343 hours in space.
She was in training for her third mission on the Challenger in 1986 when the shuttle exploded shortly after takeoff, killing the entire crew. She was named to the commission formed to study the accident. After the investigation, Ride led NASA's long-term and strategic planning efforts. She also founded its Office of Exploration. She retired from the agency in 1987.
Ride again helped investigate a space shuttle disaster after Challenger broke apart upon re-entry into Earth's atmosphere in 2003. She was the only person to serve on both panels investigating the disasters.