Sally Ride


This lesson plan is a history of the space race between the Soviet Union and the United States. It serves as a reminder of the significant role women play in American history and how attitudes in society can be changed by the hard work of pioneers in different fields.

Included with this lesson are some adjustments or additions that you can make if you’d like, found in the “Options for Lesson” section of the Classroom Procedure page. One of the optional additions to this lesson is to have students take a virtual tour of the Space Shuttle or learn about NASA History using the websites linked in this section.

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What our Sally Ride lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Sally Ride teaches students about the woman who made history as the first American woman in space. Her groundbreaking achievement inspired a generation of young women to pursue careers in science and technology. At the end of the lesson, students will have learned how understanding the historical context of events affects the perspectives of the time of the event and how historians interpret the event in real time. This lesson is for students in 3rd grade, 4th grade, and 5th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand. The supplies you will need for this lesson are pencils, pens, and highlighters. To prepare for this lesson ahead of time, you can gather the supplies and copy the handouts.

Options for Lesson

Included with this lesson is an “Options for Lesson” section that lists a number of suggestions for activities to add to the lesson or substitutions for the ones already in the lesson. One optional addition to this lesson is to have students take a virtual tour of the Space Shuttle or learn about NASA History using the websites linked in this section.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page includes a paragraph with additional guidelines and things to think about as you begin to plan your lesson. This page also includes lines that you can use to add your own notes as you’re preparing for this lesson.


Historical Context

The Sally Ride lesson plan includes three pages of content. The lesson begins by saying that, while students may already know about John Glenn, the first U.S. astronaut to orbit the Earth in 1962, and Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut to walk on the Moon in 1969. These accomplishments were great for the United States and the world as a whole. However, students may not know that Sally Ride was the first female astronaut in the United States!

To understand the importance of Sally Ride’s accomplishments, we need to look at the historical context. Historical context is when we look at history from the perspective of the people living in that time. We don’t judge people by the time they lived in, but rather aim to explore the attitudes of that time without judgment.

Sally Ride’s story begins in 1957, when Russia launched the first satellite in space, called Sputnik. The launch of that satellite was a huge scientific achievement. Because of this, the United States decided to start a space program. Today, we have advanced satellite technology and space travel. In the 1950s, however, a world power like Russia competing against the United States in technology was a big deal! Both of them wanted to be the first to send people to space. The United States started to think that we were behind Russia and other countries in math, science, engineering, and technology. In April 1961, a Soviet astronaut named Yuri Gagarian became the first human in space, embarrassing the United States.

In the same year, the United States also sent their first astronaut, Alan Shepard, to space. Because his mission was such a success, the U.S. began accelerating their space program. President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would start a program to send people to the Moon. The Soviets also accelerated their program, and sent the first woman into space in June 1963. Her name was Valentina Tereshkova, and she orbited the world for 71 hours. At that point, she had spent more time in space than all American astronauts combined.

Tereshkova’s flight was an especially big accomplishment because, at this time in history, we did not let women have certain jobs, like construction, police, military, and pilots. People considered these jobs too dangerous for women, and that they should have jobs as teachers, retail workers, caregivers, or assistants. Tereshkova proved that women could do the same jobs as men, helping pave the way for equal rights for women.

A private organization began testing women for space journeys in the U.S. in 1960, but none of them became NASA astronauts. The Air Force started a second program that also didn’t last long and didn’t produce any female astronauts. During this time at NASA, some people thought that women would be well suited to flying as they generally had smaller frames and weighed less. They already knew that women could fly jets, but the cultural ideas at the time prevented some people from believing that women could go to space.

Sally Ride – The First U.S. Woman in Space

Sally Ride was born in 1951 and was six years old when Sputnik launched. She was athletic and smart, and graduated from Stanford University with a Doctorate in Physics. At that time, NASA did not have any female astronauts. In 1977, fourteen years after Tereshkova’s flight in space, NASA finally started recruiting women. They ran ads all across the country asking young female scientists to join a new program for mission specialists. At this time, Sally Ride was still a student but decided to apply anyway. NASA chose her to be one of five women for their class of 1978! She still needed to go through lots of physical training and other preparation before going to space.

Who is Sally Ride? The First U.S. Woman in Space

Sally Ride rode in the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983. She was the flight engineer and this made her the first woman from the United States to ever go to space. Many reporters interviewed her about her experience. Some of them asked her things about her makeup or how the flight affected her as a woman. However, Sally handled these questions gracefully and even made a statement about how she wished society were further along.

Sally flew in the space shuttle again in 1984, spending eight days in space. She conducted experiments and furthered the United States’ mission of space exploration. She stayed on at NASA as an administrator for several years, and then taught at the California Space Science Institute. Later, she served on boards, was a speaker at events, and became a national hero, promoting math, science, technology, and engineering. She thought that more people in the United States should study these fields if the U.S. wanted to keep being a world leader in technology.

Dr. Ride specifically focused on getting more women into science, because she had seen many women discouraged from pursuing careers in these fields. Sally was a role model for women and wanted to make sure everyone who wanted to follow her path could do so.

Dr. Ride passed away in 2012 from pancreatic cancer. President Obama awarded her a posthumous Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, in 2013. We will remember her forever for her accomplishments and for her commitment to education and equality.


The Sally Ride lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. You can refer to the guide on the classroom procedure page to determine when to hand out each worksheet.


For the activity worksheet, students will answer seven reading comprehension questions about the lesson plan content.


The practice worksheet asks students to cut out the names of the notable U.S. Women Space Pioneers and match them with their significant space accomplishments.


For the homework assignment, students will choose one notable U.S. Women Space Pioneer and will write a brief biography of their life.

Worksheet Answer Keys

This lesson plan includes answer keys for the practice worksheet and the homework assignment. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information


3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade


Biography, Social Studies

State Educational Standards

NCSS.D2.HIS.2.3-5, NCSS.D2.HIS.3.3-5, NCSS.D2.HIS.2.6-8, & LB.ELA.LITERACY.RI.5.3

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.

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