Exactly 38 years ago, NASA astronaut Sally Ride made history by becoming the first American woman in space and the youngest person ever to be sent into orbit.

At just 32 years old, Ride boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger that launched her into Earth's orbit on June 18, 1983. During the six-day mission, she operated the spacecraft's robotic arm that deployed communication satellites.

She will later fly on the space shuttle again in 1984 and became the first American woman to travel to space twice.

Becoming An Astronaut

Ride's journey to space began in 1977 when NASA posted an ad in the school newspaper looking for women to join its astronaut program. At the time, she was a student finishing her Ph.D. in astrophysics at Stanford University.

She responded to the ad with a short, 40-word letter asking for an application form. She ended up beating 1,000 other applicants to become one of the six women selected to join the 1978 astronaut class, the first to include women.

On June 18, 1983, she cemented her place in history. With four male crewmates, Ride was launched into space on the Space Shuttle Challenger's STS-7 mission.

"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," recalled Ride in an interview in 2008. "I didn't really think about it that much at the time — but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space."

Following her first historic flight, Ride went back to space a year later for the shuttle mission STS-41G. She was scheduled to fly to space for the third time, but the mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in Jan. 1986 which killed all seven crew, including the first teacher in space Christa McAuliffe.

Inspiring Women In Science

In 1989, she quit NASA to become a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit that encouraged young women to pursue careers in science, math, and technology.

She also authored science books for students and teachers.

In 2003, NASA added Ride to the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She also received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the Theodore Roosevelt Award.

In 2012, Ride passed away after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former U.S. President Barack Obama.

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