The passing of Sally Ride – The legacy of a true shuttle pioneer

The first American woman in space, Dr Sally Ride, sadly passed away this week. Dr Ride, a veteran of two shuttle missions with Challenger, continued to dedicate her life via public outreach programs. However, her dedication to the Shuttle fleet never waned, even leading subgroup effort at the Augustine Commission in an attempt save the orbiters from retirement.

Dr Sally Ride – Her Missions:

Sally Ride joined NASA in 1978, after being one of 6,000 people to answer a newspaper advertisement offering a career in the space program.

After serving as CAPCOM at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) during Columbia’s STS-2 and STS-3 missions – along with aiding the development of the Space Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) – Dr Ride was selected to 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,” Dr Ride recalled in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008.

“That was made pretty clear the day that I was told I was selected as a crew. I was taken up to Chris Kraft’s office. He wanted to have a chat with me and make sure I knew what I was getting into before I went on the crew. I was so dazzled to be on the crew and go into space I remembered very little of what he said.”

Launch of Challenger on STS-7 marked Ride’s place in history as the first American woman in space, on a flight that also saw Robert L. Crippen promoted from his role as pilot on STS-1, to that of commanding Challenger’s second flight.

“On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad,” Ride added. “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.”

Launched into a 28.5 degree 160-170nm orbit, Challenger deployed two communications satellites (ANIK C-2 for Canada and PALAPA-B2) for Indonesia.

Seven Get Away Special canisters were also launched in Challenger’s payload bay, as well as an experiment studying the effects of space on the social behavior of an ant colony. Ten experiments were also mounted on Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS-01), experiments designed to perform research in forming metal alloys in microgravity and the use of remote sensing scanners.

During the flight, Challenger’s crew fired the vehicle’s RCS control thrusters while SPAS-01 was held by SRMS (Shuttle Remote Manipulator System) to test the forces of the RCS firings on the extended arm.

STS-7 also marked the first time that a Shuttle orbiter’s Ku-Band antenna was used to transmit data through the TDRS network to a ground terminal.

STS-7 also holds the distinction of being the first Shuttle flight to carry a planned EOM (End of Mission) landing at the Kennedy Space Center; however, poor weather conditions at Kennedy precluded a landing of Challenger at the Florida spaceport.

The mission was extended by two orbits to help facilitate a landing at Edwards. Challenger successfully touched down on Runway 15 at Edwards at 06:56.59 PDT on June 24. Dr Ride parted company with Challenger, as engineers prepared the orbiter for a return the Kennedy Space Center on June 29 to begin processing for STS-8.

Dr Ride was reunited with Challenger for their second mission together, STS-41G – a flight that was once again commanded by Bob Crippen.

Despite a record five month stay in the Orbiter Processing Facility (OPF) – as Challenger waited for Discovery to launch on her debut mission – pad processing and the launch countdown proceeded nominally with no major issues.

At 07:03 EDT on October 5, Challenger lifted off into the morning sky on the 13th Space Shuttle flight. Unlike all of Challenger’s previous missions, this flight was launched into a 57 degree 218nm orbit.

The flight marked the first time a Shuttle carried a crew of seven into space, the first time two women flew into space together (and the first time two women were in space at the same time – as Dr Ride was joined by Kathryn Sullivan), the first time a Canadian flew into space, the first time an Australian-born person flew into space, and the first EVA to be conducted by a US woman.

During the 8-day flight, Challenger’s crew deployed the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and, through an EVA, connected Components of Orbital Refueling System – thereby demonstrating that it was possible to refuel a satellite in orbit. During this EVA, Kathryn Sullivan marked the historic first for an American woman.

On October 13, Challenger returned to Earth conducting the second landing of the Space Shuttle at the Kennedy Space Center. This flight would go down as Challenger’s longest mission, clocking in at 8 days 5 hours 23 minutes 33 seconds.

Dr Sally Ride – Finding Answers To Tragedy:

Dr Ride was deep into training for her third shuttle mission (STS-61M – again with Challenger) when the Space Shuttle Program (SSP) was hit by a devastating tragedy.

Challenger, the orbiter Dr Ride knew so well, was lost during ascent on STS-51L, resulting in the loss of her seven crew, including the first civilian woman to ride on the Shuttle, Christa McAuliffe.

Despite the tragic loss of “her orbiter” and the STS-51L crew, Dr Ride accepted a position on the Rogers Commission, tasked with investigating the disaster.

The commission found that the accident was caused by a failure in the O-rings sealing the aft field joint on the right Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) – contributed to freezing temperatures at the pad – causing pressurized hot gases and eventually flame to “blow by” the O-ring that made contact with the adjacent external tank, causing structural failure during ascent.

However, the Commission also found the launch went ahead despite protests from Morton-Thiokol engineers, such as Roger Boisjoly – who later claimed Dr Ride was the only public figure to show support for him when he revealed his warnings in the public domain.

The decision to launch highlighted serious management structure and organizational culture issues within NASA.

Dr Ride also served on the Columbia Accident Investigation Board (CAIB), called for after the loss of the flagship during entry on her ill-fated STS-107 mission.

Dr Sally Ride – Commitment To The Future:

Less known is Dr Ride’s role in evaluating a future path for NASA.

With the Agency in 2012 still trying to finalize an exploration roadmap, it was Dr Ride final official NASA role in 1987 that saw her lead the Agency’s first strategic planning effort, resulting in her authoring a report entitled “Leadership and America’s Future in Space“. Dr Ride also founded NASA’s Office of Exploration.

The report’s findings are still relevant today, ranging from defined destinations – of which Dr Ride was an advocate of a lunar base as precursor to Mars missions – to leadership in space and education in the public arena.

“An informed public is essential to both the near-and long-term interests of the nation’s civilian space program. The public needs an appropriate base of knowledge of scientific and technological issues in order to make educated decisions on space-related goals,” Dr Ride wrote in her report.

“Additionally, today’s educational system must produce the high caliber scientists, engineers, technicians, social scientists, and humanists that will actually manage the large-scale space programs that are now envisioned. This means capturing the imaginations and interests of young people at an early stage in their educational careers and encouraging them to pursue studies that will prepare them to actively participate in the space program.”

Despite leaving NASA later that year, Dr Ride’s commitment to her report’s findings saw her lead public outreach efforts, such the ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM projects in cooperation with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which permitted middle school students to study imagery of the Earth and moon.

Dr Sally Ride – Her Dedication To Shuttle:

Despite her involvement in investigating both Shuttle disasters, Dr Ride never lost her faith in the orbiters, as she led a subgroup – along with several key NASA and United Space Alliance (USA) managers – at the Augustine Commission into the future of NASA’s Human Space Flight Program, an effort that saw Dr Ride embark on a major push to extend the shuttle program by several years.

With the SSP set to end in 2010 at the time of the review, Dr Ride presented three options to the Commission, notably called the “Sally Ride Options” (L2 Link to the presentation), based around a manifest stretch through to the end of 2011, a stretch and extension to 2012 that includes two additional shuttle missions, and an extension to 2014 with six additional missions.

All of the options presented an intelligent understanding of flight hardware assets and orbiter maintenance requirements, such as the timelines related to the Orbiter Maintenance Down Periods (OMDP) that would have come into play via an extension.

Dr Ride had major backing, with an internal address to the SSP workforce noting “We (USA/SSP) will go talk to the Augustine Committee. The essence of the briefing will be that it is safe to fly the Shuttle longer, and feasible under certain scenarios, and in the nation’s best interest.”

However, tied down by the costs of a failing Constellation Program (CxP), the effort – heavily associated with extending the life of the International Space Station (ISS) and the transition to a Shuttle Derived Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SD HLV) – was deemed to be too costly for NASA’s budget projections.

Ironically, CxP was eventually cancelled, the ISS’ lifetime was extended past 2016 and a SD HLV – now known as the Space Launch System (SLS) – was selected as the successor to the Shuttle for the transition to an exploration program.

Dr Ride’s efforts proved to be the final major push to save the orbiters from retirement, as all future proposals to extend the life of the fleet – one via the United Space Alliance (USA), and another led by a British investor – failed.

Dr Sally Ride – Never To Be Forgotten:

Dr Ride’s passing, after a short battle with cancer, was marked by an array of fitting tributes, both from within the NASA family and from around the planet.

“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism -and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”

Nancy Conrad, Founder & Chairman of The Conrad Foundation, honored her dedication to inspiring the next generation, notably as a role model to young women.

“The Conrad Foundation and our students and partners are saddened to hear of Sally Ride’s untimely death. Sally was a great physicist, astronaut, educator and American hero. She dedicated her life to bringing the world of science to girls with her Sally Ride Science Academy and Camps. She was a wonderful role model for young women and girls and will be sadly missed. We salute her contribution to our nation and to our future.”

Noting her role with the Sally Ride Science Festivals held at Rice University, National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) spoke of her legacy of determination and achievement, that will be long-remembered both inside and outside the world’s human spaceflight communities.

“NSBRI is saddened by passing of Dr. Sally Ride. America has lost a pioneer in human spaceflight and a role model to all,” said NSBRI President and CEO Dr. Jeffrey P. Sutton.

“Dr. Ride provided inspiration to women and girls with her historic flight into space aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. After a second spaceflight and retiring from NASA, she continued as an educator and through her company to be a leader in inspiring young people to be the best they can be in their future careers.”

The most touching tribute came from from former NASA astronaut Steve Hawley – Dr Ride’s former husband.

“Sally was a very private person who found herself a very public persona. It was a role in which she was never fully comfortable. I was privileged to be a part of her life and be in a position to support her as she became the first American woman to fly in space.

“While she never enjoyed being a celebrity, she recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential.

“Sally Ride, the astronaut and the person, allowed many young girls across the world to believe they could achieve anything if they studied and worked hard. I think she would be pleased with that legacy.”

RIP Dr Ride.

To post your tributes, please use this thread:

(Photos via L2, L2 Historical STS-7 and STS-41G sections, and NASA).

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