First Woman Astronaut Dr. Sally Ride Honored on U.S. Quarter

March 20, 2022
Sally Ride headshot with American flag and a model of a space ship behind her. The photo is signed: Reach for the stars! Sally Ride

Astronaut Sally Ride. NASA.

By Sarah Ramirez and Jennifer Schneider of the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative

This Women's History Month, the U.S. Mint will release a second quarter in their American Women Quarter™ Program. The first quarter featured writer and activist Dr. Maya Angelou, and the second will feature astronaut Dr. Sally Ride. Ride will be the first known LGBTQ+ person on U.S. currency.

Graphic with illustration of quarter featuring Sally Ride in her space sit, with the earth in the background

Image of 2022 Dr. Sally Ride quarter, part of the American Women Quarters™ Program. Copyright United States Mint. Used with permission.

Staff members at the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story, are excited to help bring this series to life with the U.S. Mint and the National Women's History Museum. From 2022 through 2025, the U.S. Mint will release new quarters each year featuring American women. This year, additional coins will feature Cherokee Nation chief Wilma Mankiller, suffragist Adelina Otero-Warren, and Hollywood actress Anna May Wong.

We invite you to explore Ride's achievements and legacy.

Dr. Sally K. Ride

On June 18, 1983, Dr. Sally K. Ride became the first American woman in space.

For the first 20 years of U.S. spaceflight, only military pilots could become astronauts. NASA leaders thought these pilots were the best prepared to face the dangers of space and the most knowledgeable about the mechanics of flight. At the time, U.S. military policy excluded women from combat and from flying. Only male pilots had the qualifications to become astronauts. In 1972, NASA announced the start of the Space Shuttle Program. The shuttle orbiters were large, reusable spacecraft that could accommodate scientists and engineers.

In 1977, Ride was finishing her PhD in physics at Stanford University. She read in a student newspaper that NASA was looking for scientists and engineers to become astronauts. For the first time, NASA was encouraging women to apply. Ride applied and was selected as one of six women to enter the Astronaut Corps in 1978. In 1983, Ride joined the seventh space shuttle mission, STS-7, as a Mission Specialist who operated the shuttle's robotic arm. The next year, Ride went back to space on the 13th space shuttle mission. She flew with Dr. Kathryn D. Sullivan, who was the first American woman to walk in space.  

Light blue jacket with NASA patch, Shuttle Challenger patch, and name tag reading Sally

Jacket, In-Flight Suit, Shuttle, Sally Ride, STS-7 by ILC Space Systems. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

During Ride's career at NASA, she was viewed as a leader. She served on the committees that investigated the shuttle Challenger disaster and the shuttle Columbia disaster. Ride was the only person assigned to both shuttle disaster committees. She was instrumental in recommending remedies to prevent further tragedies. She also led a task force that produced NASA's first strategic planning report, which is popularly called the "Ride Report."

Light blue jacket with NASA patch, Shuttle Challenger patch, and name tag reading Sally

Plaque, Newsweek, Space Woman Cover, Sally Ride, 1986. Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, gift of Tam O'Shaughnessy.

After ten years at NASA, Ride became a physics professor at the University of California San Diego. She taught physics for 25 years and published over 40 physics papers. She wrote six books about science for young readers. She also co-founded Sally Ride Science to help narrow the gender gap in science and engineering. Twenty years later, Sally Ride Science is still creating programs to inspire children of all backgrounds in STEM. By breaking barriers, Ride inspired generations of young women to reach for the stars.

The above media is provided by

Margaret Weitekamp, a curator of space history at the National Air and Space Museum, talks about Sally Ride's role as the first American woman in space, and how her leadership changed the perception of women in science.

In 2015, Sally Ride's partner, Dr. Tam O'Shaughnessy, donated the Sally K. Ride Collection to the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. The donation contained 182 items that Sally collected over her lifetime. It also included over 23 cubic feet of papers, including Ride's Shuttle Training Notes. These papers have been transcribed by volunteers with the Smithsonian Transcription Center.

Sarah Ramirez was the fall 2021 Because of Her Story intern for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative. Her work focused on expanding the Smithsonian's reach through creating a social media guide and writing website articles.

Jennifer Schneider is program manager for the Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, Because of Her Story. She works to help the Smithsonian center women's history in our exhibitions, collections, educational programs, and digital offerings.