From Cape Canaveral, Florida, the space shuttle Challenger is launched into space on its second mission. Aboard the shuttle was Dr. Sally Ride, who as a mission specialist became the first American woman to travel into space. During the six-day mission, Ride, an astrophysicist from Stanford University, operated the shuttle’s robot arm, which she had helped design.
Her historic journey was preceded almost 20 years to the day by cosmonaut Valentina V. Tereshkova of the Soviet Union, who on June 16, 1963, became the first woman ever to travel into space. The United States had screened a group of female pilots in 1959 and 1960 for possible astronaut training but later decided to restrict astronaut qualification to men. In 1978, NASA changed its policy and announced that it had approved six women to become the first female astronauts in the U.S. space program. The new astronauts were chosen out of some 3,000 original applicants. Among the six were Sally Ride and Shannon Lucid, who in 1996 set a new space endurance record for an American and a world endurance record for a woman during her 188-day sojourn on the Russian space station Mir.