Sally Ride and John Fabian preparing to board Challenger (AP/Wide World)

Challenger lifting off for the STS-7 mission. (NASA)


It's 3:15 a.m. on a Saturday, but the crew onboard the space shuttle Challenger doesn't mind the early hour. June 18, 1983, is launch day for STS-7. At 7:33 a.m., the shuttle roars to life. White-hot plumes shoot from the reusable solid rockets. Signs urge, "Ride, Sally Ride!" A huge crowd cheers the launch of America's first woman in space.

As the shuttle takes off, Ride is thrust back into her seat by three times the force of gravity. The two solid boosters fall away and parachute into the ocean, where they will be recovered for later use. After about eight minutes, the shuttle's engines cut off.

The big orange fuel tank falls into the atmosphere and burns up. Inside the shuttle, Ride is weightless, soaring 185 miles above the earth.