Northrop Grumman names freighter ‘SS Sally Ride’ for first American woman in space


She set sail as a US Navy research vessel, shipped as a postage stamp, entered circulation on the reverse of a coin, and stood as a monument. Now the first American woman in space is about to return to Earth orbit as the namesake of a cargo capsule bound for the space station (opens in a new tab).

Northrop Grumman christened its 19th (NG-18) Cygnus resupply spacecraft the “SS Sally Ride”.

“Today, we recognize and celebrate the contributions of a true pioneer of spaceflight in naming our next spacecraft Cygnus (opens in a new tab) after Dr. Sally Ride,” said Kathy Warden, President, CEO and President of Northrop Grumman, in a video posted to the company’s social media Monday (October 3). “She was a strong advocate for diversity and equality in science, inspiring countless women to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] careers, including me.”

Pictures: Sally Ride, first American in space

One of the first six women selected in 1978 to become NASA astronauts, Ride launched into space on June 18, 1983, as a member of the STS-7 crew of the Challenger shuttle. She flew Challenger again a year later as an STS-41G mission specialist, bringing her total time in space to just over two weeks.

Ride also set ground records. A young nationally ranked tennis player, Ride was the first woman to serve as a CapCom, or capsule communicator, in Mission Control. After leaving the astronaut corps, she continued to serve the US space program, becoming the only member of the two investigative committees that followed the two NASA shuttle tragedies. Ride also joined the 2009 commission that helped shape the agency’s current spaceflight programs.

In 2001, Ride and her life partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, co-founded Sally Ride Science, a company aimed at motivating young girls to pursue careers in science and engineering. Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61.

“Her impact continues to be felt today. She paved the way for future generations to push the boundaries of spaceflight and exploration,” Warden said. “We are honored to name our new Cygnus spacecraft after this remarkable woman.”

In the years since her death, Ride has been honored to name the U.S. Navy’s R/V Sally Ride; featured his likeness on a U.S. postage stamp and a U.S. quarter-dollar coin; and was commemorated with a life-size statue in bronze and gold (opens in a new tab) outside the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Long Island, New York. She was also honored with a Barbie doll, a Little People figure (opens in a new tab) and a LEGO minifigure, and she was the namesake of the site where two NASA probes hit the moon in 2012.

NASA and Northrop Grumman mission patches for the

NASA and Northrop Grumman mission patches for the “SS Sally Ride” NG-18 Cygnus cargo spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/Northrop Grumman (Editing by

The SS Sally Ride is scheduled to launch to the International Space Station no earlier than November 6, atop a Northrop Grumman Antares 230+ rocket from Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport (MARS) on Wallops Island in Virginia. The spacecraft will deliver more than 8,200 pounds (3,700 kilograms) of cargo for the station’s Expedition 68 crew. Once its mission is accomplished, the SS Sally Ride will make a destructive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The SS Sally Ride is only the third Cygnus to be named after a woman. Northrop Grumman has a tradition of naming each of its spacecraft after someone who has made great contributions to human spaceflight. Past namesakes have included former corporate executive JR Thompson, US Air Force Manned Orbit Laboratory candidate Robert Lawrence, NASA mathematician Catherine Johnson (opens in a new tab) and NASA astronauts David Low, Gordon Fullerton, Janice Voss, Deke Slayton, Rick Husband, Alan Poindexter, John Glenn, Gene Cernan, John Young, Roger Chaffee, Alan Bean, Kalpana Chawla (opens in a new tab) and Ellison Onizuka (opens in a new tab).

The most recent Cygnus, launched in February and desorbed in June, was named the SS Pillar Vendors (opens in a new tab) according to an Anglo-American climatologist who embarked on three missions to the space station.

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