Northrop Grumman names 'SS Sally Ride' cargo craft for first US woman in space

Northrop Grumman's NG-18 Cygnus cargo spacecraft, seen in flight processing at left, has been named the "S.S. Sally Ride" in honor of the first American woman to fly into space.
Northrop Grumman's NG-18 Cygnus cargo spacecraft, seen in flight processing at left, has been named the "S.S. Sally Ride" in honor of the first American woman to fly into space. (Image credit: Northrop Grumman/Sally Ride Science (Montage by collectSPACE.com))

She set sail as a U.S. Navy research vessel, shipped out as postage stamp, entered circulation on the reverse of a coin and stood tall as a monument. Now, America's first woman in space is set to return to Earth orbit as the namesake of a space station-bound cargo capsule (opens in new tab).

Northrop Grumman has christened its 19th (NG-18) Cygnus resupply spacecraft the "S.S. Sally Ride."

"Today we recognize and celebrate the contributions of a true pioneer of spaceflight by naming our next Cygnus spacecraft (opens in new tab) after Dr. Sally Ride," said Kathy Warden, chair, chief executive officer and president of Northrop Grumman, in a video posted to the company's social media channels on Monday (Oct. 3). "She was a steadfast advocate for diversity and equality in science, inspiring countless women to pursue STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] careers, including me."

Photos: Sally Ride, first American woman in space

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

Ride set records on the ground, too. A nationally ranked youth tennis player, Ride was the first woman to serve as CapCom, or capsule communicator, in mission control. After leaving the astronaut corps, she continued to serve the U.S. space program, becoming the only member of both investigation boards that followed NASA's two 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," said Warden. "We are honored to name our newest Cygnus spacecraft after this remarkable woman."

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

NASA and Northrop Grumman mission patches for the "S.S. Sally Ride" NG-18 Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

NASA and Northrop Grumman mission patches for the "S.S. Sally Ride" NG-18 Cygnus cargo spacecraft. (Image credit: NASA/Northrop Grumman (Montage by collectSPACE.com))

The S.S. Sally Ride is targeted to launch to the International Space Station no earlier than Nov. 6, riding atop a Northrop Grumman Antares 230+ rocket from the 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 has been completed, the S.S. Sally Ride will perform a destructive reentry into Earth's atmosphere over the Pacific Ocean.

The S.S. Sally Ride is only the third Cygnus to be named for 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 company executive J.R. Thompson, U.S. Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory candidate Robert Lawrence, NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (opens in 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 new tab) and Ellison Onizuka (opens in new tab).

The most recent Cygnus, which was launched in February and deorbited in June, was named the S.S. Piers Sellers (opens in new tab) after a British-American climate scientist who launched on three missions to the space station.

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Robert Z. Pearlman
collectSPACE.com Editor, Space.com Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of collectSPACE.com, an online publication and community devoted to space history with a particular focus on how and where space exploration intersects with pop culture. Pearlman is also a contributing writer for Space.com and co-author of "Space Stations: The Art, Science, and Reality of Working in Space” published by Smithsonian Books in 2018. He previously developed online content for the National Space Society and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, helped establish the space tourism company Space Adventures and currently serves on the History Committee of the American Astronautical Society, the advisory committee for The Mars Generation and leadership board of For All Moonkind. In 2009, he was inducted into the U.S. Space Camp Hall of Fame in Huntsville, Alabama. In 2021, he was honored by the American Astronautical Society with the Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History.