NASA's Sally Ride Will Become the First Female Astronaut on the US Quarter

She was part of NASA's first class to include women.
Brad Bergan
Sally Ride, on her first mission aboard Space Shuttle Challenger, in 1983.NASA

Rarely are first times worthy of note when it comes to minted coins.

But the U.S. Mint has added NASA Astronaut Sally Ride to its "American Women Quarters" program, marking the first commemoration of a female astronaut on a U.S. quarter, according to a post on the Mint's website.

The coin will appear in 2022, but Sally Ride might have felt some discomfort at the idea of such public exposure, having cherished her private life. Although, whether she would prefer not to say so, it's hard to say.

NASA Astronaut Sally Ride encouraged women to try STEM fields

Sally Ride's visage will appear on an official U.S. quarter in 2022, based on an illustration inspired by a quote from the astronaut which reads: "But when I wasn't working, I was usually at a window looking down at Earth." It's not a mindblowing surprise that most coins in history have depicted male faces, since it was only half a century ago that women gained the right to work alongside men, and still longer until morality adjusted to the change, and learned to value women as equal colleagues with just as much potential to contribute to society. But, as the first female astronaut, Sally Ride didn't have an easy time. Some reporters even asked her unconscionably suggestive questions, like: "Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?"

Succeeding despite the odds, Ride became the first female U.S. citizen to make it to space on June 18, 1983, flying above the atmosphere in the Space Shuttle Challenger. While she was scheduled to fly again in 1986, the disastrous destruction of the same space shuttle saw her investigating the tragic explosion with the federal government. After she parted ways with NASA, Ride remained a prominent voice in the support of gender equality within the U.S. space program, founding Sally Ride Science in the early 2000s to encourage more young women to consider STEM fields, and wrote six children's books about empirical science before she died, in 2012.

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Sally Ride Quarter
The graphic concept for Sally Ride's forthcoming quarter-dollar coin. Source: US Mint

Shying away from celebrity, Sally Ride kept a private life

Notably, in addition to becoming the first female astronaut, in death Ride also became the first gay astronaut. "In her inherent Norwegian reticence," read an essay written by Ride's sister, Bear Ride, on her sister's passing, according to an NBC News report. "Most people did not know that Sally had a wonderfully loving relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy for 27 years. Sally never hid her relationship with Tam. They were partners, business partners in Sally Ride Science, they wrote books together, and Sally's very close friends, of course, knew of their love for each other. We consider Tam a member of our family."

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," added Ride's sister, in the report. Forty years ago, the expectation for astronauts was to maintain a "Right Stuff" archetype, without which no one could go to space. While no kind of human is perfect, this norm changed in 1983, with Ride's flight. And now, anyone of any gender, sexuality, race, or creed has a shot at becoming an astronaut with NASA. Of course, Ride wouldn't enjoy the added clout that can accompany having what in the early twenty-teens was called "non-normative" sexuality. Not because Ride was uncomfortable with herself, but because she mistrusted celebrity in general. But like it or not, her legacy would explode after her death, and soon everyone may carry her likeness in their pockets.

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