The first female U.S. astronaut to fly into space will be honored by the United States Mint in 2022, leading off a series of circulating coins depicting notable American women.
Sally Ride, who famously made history launching on the space shuttle in 1983, will be featured as part of the Mint's American Women Quarters Program. The late astronaut will be one of the first two women represented on the new coins, which will be issued through 2025.
"Famed writer Maya Angelou and trailblazing astronaut Dr. Sally Ride will be the first," the U.S. Mint announced on Monday (April 12).
As authorized by Congress by the passage of the Circulating Collectible Coin Redesign Act of 2020, the U.S. Mint will issue circulating and numismatic quarter-dollar coins with reverse (or tails-side) designs that are "emblematic of the accomplishments and contributions of a prominent American woman," beginning next year. The bill directs that the honorees be selected from a wide spectrum of fields, as well as be from ethnic, racial and geographical diverse backgrounds.
The legislation also requires that no living person be featured on the coins. Ride died in 2012 at the age of 61.
A member of NASA's first class of astronauts to include women, Ride launched on her first mission in 1983 as a member of space shuttle Challenger's STS-7 crew. The first American woman to fly into space, Ride was preceded into Earth orbit by two Russian female cosmonauts: Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1963 and 1982, respectively.
Ride flew on a second shuttle mission, STS-41G, also aboard Challenger, in 1984. In total, she logged 14 days and 8 hours in space, circling the Earth 230 times.
After retiring from NASA in 1987, Ride became a physics professor and authored several children's science books. She also co-founded Sally Ride Science, a non-profit organization promoting students, mostly girls, take up an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) studies and careers.
In addition to being the first U.S. woman in space, Ride was the youngest NASA astronaut to launch on a mission (at age 32 in 1983) and the earliest space flier to be recognized as a member of the LGBT community.
In accordance with the enacted law, the Secretary of the Treasury selected Ride (and Angelou) for the American Women Quarters Program after consulting with the Smithsonian Institution's American Women's History Initiative, the National Women's History Museum and the Congressional Bipartisan Women's Caucus. The public is invited to submit recommendations for future women to be honored via a website run by the National Women's History Museum.
The U.S. Mint will oversee the design of the coins, including the quarter honoring Ride. Once there is candidate artwork, the Mint will submit the concepts to the Commission of Fine Arts for comment and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee for review. The final decision on the designs will be made by the Secretary of the Treasury.
The obverse (or heads-side) of each coin in the American Women Quarters Program will maintain a likeness of George Washington, but will be different from the design used during the U.S. Mint's earlier quarter programs.
Ride will not be the first astronaut to appear on a U.S. coin or a circulating quarter.
In 2002, the U.S. Mint issued Ohio's entry in its 50 State Quarters Program with a depiction of an astronaut in an Apollo spacesuit as a nod to the state being the "birthplace of aviation pioneers," including John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. More recently, the Mint depicted a shuttle astronaut on its 2019 commemorative coin celebrating Native Americans in the space program, and in January of this year, honored "Teacher in Space" Christa McAuliffe on a commemorative silver dollar.