The Challenger explosion on January 28, 1986 (AP/Wide World)

Changing Horizons in Spaceflight

Sally Ride proves that women are equal to men in space. But for her, the impact of the flight is more personal. She says, "The thing I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. It was the most fun I'll ever have in my life."

In October 1984, Ride flies on the Challenger for the second time, with the same commander, Crippen. The flight's crew of seven becomes the largest ever, and includes two women! On this flight, Kathy Sullivan becomes the first American woman to walk in space.

Spaceflight has become more routine. NASA decides to fly a teacher named Christa McAuliffe on Challenger mission 51L. The commander and three of the mission specialists are members of Ride's class of TFNGs. One is America's second woman in space, Judy Resnick. Meanwhile, Ride is scheduled for a third flight soon after. But on January 28, 1986, the Challenger explodes during launch. All seven crew members are killed.

President Reagan selects 12 people to investigate the tragedy. Sally Ride and Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon, are two of them. Ride tells a reporter, "I think we may have been misleading people into thinking that this is a routine operation…. And it's not."

The investigation uncovers faulty seals in the shuttle's solid rocket boosters. The shuttle is grounded while the boosters are fixed. Ride goes to Washington to help chart a future course for NASA once a new space station has been built. The "Ride Report" supports focusing on developing a lunar base and studying Earth further before sending humans to Mars.

Sally Ride does not return to space. Instead she leaves NASA in 1987 to work first at Stanford University and then at the University of California at San Diego. She is teaching other women to be scientists and engineers.