LAUNCH CONTROL: T-minus 25 seconds and counting....
Twenty-five years ago today, space shuttle Challenger was poised on its launch pad, ready for flight. Its payload bay carried three satellites, but its crew compartment carried a much more momentous passenger.
LAUNCH CONTROL: 7, 6, we go for main engine start, we have main engine start, and ignition, and liftoff! Liftoff of STS-7 and America's first woman astronaut!
That "first woman astronaut" was Sally Ride -- a 32-year-old physicist. During Challenger's flight, she helped deploy the satellites and operated several experiments. She later flew on another shuttle mission, and served on the panel that investigated Challenger's destruction in 1986.
The first woman in space had flown 20 years earlier: Valentina Tereshkova, a textile worker who flew as a Soviet publicity stunt. A second Soviet woman flew just a few months before Sally Ride.
NASA picked its first women astronauts in 1978 -- Ride and five others. Instead of pilots, they were scientists or engineers who were selected to operate the shuttle's experiments and equipment.
Since then, dozens more American women have flown in space, including several pilots. They've commanded space shuttles and the International Space Station. They're floating in the footsteps of one of the pioneers of spaceflight: Sally Ride.
MISSION CONTROL: Challenger has delivered to space the largest human payload in the history of mankind: four men and one woman.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.