This Day in History

On June 18, 1983, NASA sent its first female astronaut into space. Dr. Sally Ride was launched into space aboard the Challenger space shuttle from the U.S. launching site in Cape Canaveral, Florida. She served the role of mission specialist aboard the space shuttle and carried out a six-day mision.

Dr. Ride Helped Design the Shuttle's Robot Arm

Dr. Sally Ride was an astrophysicist working for Stanford University at the time she was selected to be the first American woman to go into space. During the flight, she was in charge of controlling the shuttle's robot arm -- a device she helped design herself.

June 18, 1983, was an historic day for American women who aspired to be astronauts; however, it's important to note that Dr. Ride was not the first woman to go into space. Indeed, approximately 20 years before Ride's space mission, the Soviet Union launched the first woman into space on June 16, 1963 -- Cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova.

Women Finally Get Their Due at NASA

Initially, it wasn't NASA's plan to have an all-boy pool of astronauts. In 1959 and 1960, for example, NASA screened a number of female pilots as potential astronauts, but ultimately chose to limit astronaut qualification to men only. Later, NASA rescinded this policy and vetted a pool of 3,000 woman, from which they planned to select the first female astronaut. In 1978, NASA announced it compiled a list of six women, who were approved to be the first female astronauts. Sally Ride was on that list. Also on the list was Shannon Lucid, who would later ride aboard the Russian Mir space station for a record-breaking 188 days in 1996.

To think that NASA would create a no-girls-allowed astronaut policy is unthinkable today; however, it was not very long ago that this was so. Fortunately, civil rights laws currently protect women from unfair treatment on the job and they can even be sent to combat in war conditions under today's legal system.