Sally's Night events mark 40 years since 1st US woman flew in space

purple logo for sally's night and yellow-and-purple logo celebrating 40 years of women in space, with a photo of sally ride during her 1983 spaceflight in the background
Sally's Night and other events will celebrate the 40th anniversary of Sally Ride becoming the first American woman in space across the U.S. throughout the month of June 2023. (Image credit: Smithsonian/NASA / montage by

From an afternoon at the ballpark to Afternoon Tea, museums and science centers across the United States are celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first American woman in space.

Sally's Night is a nationwide celebration of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) led by the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum. Now in its third year, the event was named in honor of the late astronaut Sally Ride.

"We wanted to take inspiration from Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, because she was so much more than that," Emily Margolis, a curator at the National Air and Space Museum and founder of Sally's Night, said in an interview with "She was not only an astronaut, but she was a scientist and an educator and a lifelong advocate for young people in STEM."

"We felt that her legacy really spoke to what we were hoping to do with this event, which is to use a central figure with name recognition, like Sally Ride, to catalyze a conversation about the ways in which women have contributed to spaceflight or STEM more broadly," said Margolis.

Related: Pioneering women in space: A gallery of astronaut firsts

Ride made history on June 18, 1983, when she launched as a member of NASA's STS-7 crew on the space shuttle Challenger. The flight marked only the third time that a woman had flown in space, following cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya. 

In the 40 years since Ride flew into space, 79 more women have followed her into space (68 into orbit and 11 on suborbital spaceflights). In addition to the U.S. and Russia, there have been female fliers from the U.K., Canada, Japan, France, South Korea, China, Italy, Mexico, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. 

"Because our work has been supported in part by the American Women's History Initiative, it made sense to focus our celebration on an American woman in space. But that's not to say that we don't acknowledge the contributions of women around the globe in the kinds of programming that we do with our virtual celebrations and our website," said Margolis.

Sally's Nights (and days)

The Smithsonian American Women's History Initiative, which is administered by the Smithsonian American Women's History Museum, provided the funding this year to support in-person celebrations at 21 museums and cultural sites that are part of the Smithsonian Affiliates network. The events are scheduled throughout the month.

"We encouraged these organizations to celebrate Sally's Night in a way that is relevant to their own audiences, communities and collections," Margolis said. "So it has been really exciting to see how this has grown in terms of geographic reach, as well as scope."

The National Air and Space Museum has again partnered with the Nationals Major League Baseball team to celebrate Sally's Night at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. (Image credit: Smithsonian/Jim Preston)

For its part, the National Air and Space Museum has again partnered with the Washington Nationals Major League Baseball team for a space-themed game at Nationals Park in Washington, DC. The June 18 event will include activity tables spread across the concourse, content on the Jumbotron throughout the game and Kate Ride, Sally's niece, throwing the ceremonial first pitch.

"When we were thinking about an off-site venue to host this, we were really thinking about what made sense in terms of Sally's legacy. And a sporting arena makes a lot of sense because she was a lifelong tennis player, and being an athlete was a really important part of her identity and helped make her a great astronaut as well," Margolis told collectSPACE. "We also really love to meet people where they are, so it's kind of an incredible thing to be able to reach 25,000 people who thought they were going to see a ballgame and are going to come away learning about women in STEM."

Other Sally's Night venues will offer a chance to meet some of the other women who have flown into space, as well as women continuing to advance spaceflight and exploration.

On June 17, The Museum of Flight in Seattle will host a day of "Sally Speaks," 20-minute Ted Talk-style lectures from innovative scientists, including Blue Origin senior director Erika Wagner, NASA engineers Linda Dawson and Kavya Manyapu and former astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger.

A week later on June 24, Space Center Houston will host a special presentation by astronaut Megan McArthur, as well as pop-up labs devoted to the women at NASA and Sally Ride's own contributions to the agency, including EarthKam, a program originally initiated by Ride.

A full calendar of Sally's Night events is available on the National Air and Space Museum's website, where there is also a guide to celebrating from home and a virtual exhibition pulling from the Sally Ride collection as held by the museum, as well as stories of women and underrepresented genders in STEM, submitted by Smithsonian Affiliates and other cultural organizations.

Beyond the Night

This year being the 60th anniversary of the first woman in space and 40th anniversary of the first U.S. woman in space also inspired events that are not part of Sally's Night, but are part of the same celebration.

The International Women's Air and Space Museum in Cleveland, Ohio, will commemorate both anniversaries with a Rocket Day at Burke Lakefront Airport on June 16. Attendees will have the chance to learn about the physics behind rocket and jet propulsion while building their own model rockets.

Related: NASA's space shuttle program in pictures: A tribute

In addition to hosting panel discussions and Afternoon Tea, NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will have commemorative prints and trading cards celebrate 40 years of American women in space. (Image credit: Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex)

NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida will host two days of discussions in "Celebration of Women in Space." Guests can hear from former astronauts Anna Fisher and Kathy Thornton, as well representatives from NASA's Launch Services Program, the U.S. Space Force and NASA's Exploration Ground Systems Program on June 16, followed by Johnson Space Center director Vanessa Wyche and representatives from Boeing and the Kennedy Space Center the following day.

On the same two days, the Visitor Complex will host Afternoon Tea, providing a more intimate setting for guests to ask questions and meet some of the panelists (including former astronaut Janet Kavandi), all while enjoying tea, hors d'oeuvres and champagne.

Attendees will also receive commemorative gifts, including a commemorative print and trading cards celebrating 40 years of American women of space.

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Robert Z. Pearlman Editor, Contributor

Robert Pearlman is a space historian, journalist and the founder and editor of, 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 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.