Who Was Sally Ride? Obama's State Of The Union Address Name-Drops This Pioneering Female Astronaut

President Obama pretty much promised his last State of the Union speech would run the gamut: he touched on a few issues that he felt could still use new policy, as well as broader issues that require the kind of long-term attention that he can't tackle alone. What the president didn't say beforehand was that he would take a hot minute in Tuesday's address to remind Americans of some of the greats from its past. So who was Sally Ride? Let's just say Obama name dropped the famous female astronaut during his SOTU for more reasons than one.

It was smack dab in the middle of President Obama's State of the Union address that he decided to toss out a bit of American history for viewers across the country.

That spirit of discovery is in our DNA. We're Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers and George Washington Carver. We're Grace Hopper and Katherine Johnson and Sally Ride. We're every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley racing to shape a better world.

And a discoverer Ride most definitely was. While working toward her Ph.D. at Stanford University in 1977, Ride saw an advertisement by NASA in the newspaper inviting applications for its astronaut program. And Ride got in, of course, because who wouldn't have accepted a physics whiz who was fearless enough to answer a newspaper ad offering a trip into space?

Six years later — after an insanely intimidating training program — Ride made her first journey beyond Earth's atmosphere aboard the Challenger space shuttle. During the mission, Ride was responsible for operating a robotic arm that helped to deploy satellites into space.

Oh, I forgot to mention a small detail. The NASA astronaut wasn't just a pioneer outside our atmosphere. Ride was a pioneer for female firsts too. That newspaper ad was NASA's first go at inviting women into its program, and Ride was one of just six women to snag an acceptance letter. She beat out more than 1,000 other applicants, and when she went on that shuttle mission in 1983, she gained a title that will stay hers and hers only: the first American woman to fly in space.

Ride returned to space the following year as a mission specialist. When the 1986 Challenger shuttle explosion prevented Ride from departing for a scheduled third trip, Ride joined the presidential commission that investigated the accident. And after Ride completed her work with NASA, the astronaut continued to encourage young women to do like she did, without even having to leave the planet. In 2001, Ride started her own company, Sally Ride Science, focused on creating educational products that would inspire girls to pursue science and math.

So when the president drops a Sally Ride reference, it may be hard to imagine Americans of today can live up to those kinds of standards that Ride set. But the woman's own daring accomplishments sure inspired the thought that anything is possible.