20 Songs You Might Not Know Were Covers

When a song becomes popular, sometimes people forget (or are unaware) that the new hit actually originated with another artist. The popular cover might be ahead of its time or re-arranged with a fresher, more modern take, but somehow it managed to find a bigger audience than the original. 

1. “Torn” — Natalie Imbruglia (1997) // Ednaswap (1995)

The Cover

The Original

In 1997, pop star Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” was a No. 1 hit throughout Europe, the United States, and her native Australia. But the song was first performed and recorded by Los Angeles-based alternative band Ednaswap for their 1995 self-titled debut.

A number of recording artists throughout the years have covered the song, but Imbruglia’s version is the most successful and popular iteration of the hit single, and it earned her a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

2. “Don’t Turn Around” — Ace of Base (1994) // Tina Turner (1986)

The Cover

The Original

Swedish pop group Ace of Base released a hit single titled “Don’t Turn Around” in 1994. The song reached the #4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was the pop group’s third hit song after “All That She Wants” and “The Sign.” Songwriters Diane Warren and Albert Hammond (of “It Never Rains in Southern California” fame) originally wrote “Don’t Turn Around” for Tina Turner and were disappointed when the record label relegated it to the B-side of the single “Typical Man” in 1986.

Neil Diamond also covered the song in 1992, but Ace of Base’s version is the most popular.

3. “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” — Cyndi Lauper (1983) // Robert Hazard (1979)

The Cover

The Original

Cyndi Lauper’s first hit single as a solo artist, “Girls Just Want To Have Fun,” reached the No. 2 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1983. Lauper was nominated for two Grammys for the song, including Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance. Self-proclaimed Country-Western fan Robert Hazard originally wrote and recorded “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” as a demo for his band Robert Hazard and the Heroes in 1979. (Hazard never released his version, though.)

4. “Tainted Love" — Soft Cell (1981) // Gloria Jones (1965)

The Cover

The Original

In 1965, American singer Gloria Jones recorded the original version of “Tainted Love” as the B-side to the single “My Bad Boy’s Comin’ Home.” The song was a commercial failure, but gained a small cult following in underground British nightclubs in the late '70s. English synth-pop duo Soft Cell recorded a modern version of “Tainted Love” in 1981. Soft Cell’s version was a No. 1 hit in eight countries, while it reached the No. 8 spot in the United States in 1982.

5. “Respect” — Aretha Franklin (1967) // Otis Redding (1965)

The Cover

The Original

In 1965, Otis Redding wrote and recorded the song “Respect." Two years later, R&B singer Aretha Franklin popularized it, and the song became her signature. Both versions have the similar lyrics (though Franklin's added the "R-E-S-P-E-C-T" chorus to the song), but Franklin’s invokes female empowerment while Redding’s is a euphemism for sex. 

6. “I Love Rock 'n' Roll” — Joan Jett and the Blackhearts (1981) // Arrows (1975)

The Cover

The Original

Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker—the frontmen of the British rock band Arrows—wrote and recorded the anthem “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” in 1975. The song got the band a TV appearance on the show 45, which eventually led to the band getting its own TV show based on their performance of the song. In 1976, while she was on tour in England with her band The Runaways, Joan Jett watched Arrows perform the song on their show.

Then, in 1981, Joan Jett recorded a version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” with her new band The Blackhearts. It became a No. 1 hit single in the United States for seven weeks and was certified platinum when it sold over one million units.

7. “Nothing Compares 2 U" — Sinead O’Connor (1990) // The Family (1985)

The Cover

The Original

Music icon Prince wrote and originally recorded the song “Nothing Compares 2 U” for his side project The Family in 1985. While the song received little recognition, Irish singer Sinéad O'Connor popularized it in 1990. O'Connor won three Moonmen Awards at the 1990 MTV Video Music Awards for Video of the Year, Best Female Video, and Best Post-Modern Video.

8. “Hey Joe” — The Jimi Hendrix Experience (1966) // The Leaves (1965)

The Cover

The Original

While the authorship of the song “Hey Joe” is ambiguous and unclear, the earliest recording of the song dates to 1965, by the California-based garage band The Leaves.

“Hey Joe” was a modest hit for The Leaves, but it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience's first hit single overseas in 1966. It peaked at No. 6 on the U.K. Singles Chart in 1967, but it failed to gain any recognition in the United States. Over the years, the song became iconic; Rolling Stone placed it at #201 on their list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

9. “It’s Oh So Quiet”— Björk (1995) // Betty Hutton (1951)

The Cover The Original

In 1995, Icelandic solo artist Björk released a cover song titled “It’s Oh So Quiet,” which American actress/singer Betty Hutton first recorded in 1951. The song was a B-side to Hutton’s single “Murder, He Says.”

“It’s Oh So Quiet” remains Björk’s biggest hit, peaking at the No. 4 spot in the United Kingdom. The song’s popularity was partly due to director Spike Jonze’s infectious music video that included large dance numbers and sweeping camera movements.

10. “Manic Monday” — The Bangles (1986) // Apollonia 6 (1984)

The Cover

The Original

Prince wrote “Manic Monday” for his female trio band Apollonia 6 for their self-titled debut in 1984. Ultimately, he pulled the song from the album and later offered it to the band The Bangles under the pseudonym “Christopher,” a character he played in the 1986 film Under the Cherry Moon. “Manic Monday” was a huge hit for The Bangles, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 list—just behind Prince and the Revolution’s “Kiss.”

11. “Hound Dog” — Elvis Presley (1956) // Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton (1953)

The Cover

The Original

Songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote “Hound Dog” for Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton in 1953. While Thornton’s original version was a No. 1 hit on the R&B charts for seven weeks, Elvis Presley’s iteration immediately became the most popular after its 1956 release. Presley’s version was a crossover success that spent 11 weeks on the top of country, pop, and R&B charts simultaneously. “Hound Dog” was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.”

12. “Cum On Feel The Noize" — Quiet Riot (1983) // Slade (1973)

The Cover

The Original

In 1973, British glam rock band Slade released “Cum On Feel The Noize," which went straight to the top of the charts in the United Kingdom and Ireland and was a top 10 single throughout parts of Europe. Ten years later, American heavy metal band Quiet Riot recorded and popularized song in the United States. The single reached the No. 5 spot on the Billboard Hot 100.

13. “I Want Candy" — Bow Wow Wow (1982) // The Strangeloves (1965)

The Cover

The Original

American music producers Bert Berns, Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer recorded a bubblegum pop tune titled “I Want Candy” in 1965. Donning shaggy wigs and zebra-print vests, Feldman, Goldstein, and Gottehrer took it upon themselves to perform the song as the faux Australian pop trio The Strangeloves. In 1982, British New Wave band Bow Wow Wow released “I Want Candy,” with its music video receiving heavy airplay and rotation during the early days of MTV. Although Bow Wow Wow would have many admirers throughout the years, including Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt, this was the band’s only hit song in the U.S.

14. “I Think We’re Alone Now" — Tiffany (1987) // Tommy James and the Shondells (1967)

The Cover

The Original

In 1967, American songwriter Ritchie Cordell wrote the single “I Think We’re Alone Now” for the rock band Tommy James and the Shondells. The song was a hit, reaching the No. 4 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. Twenty year later, “I Think We’re Alone Now” was popularized by teen recording artist Tiffany, whose version reached the top spot on Billboard’s list for two weeks. Its music video launched the then-16-year-old into pop music stardom. Interestingly, Tiffany's song was replaced at No. 1 by Billy Idol’s “Mony Mony,” another cover of a Tommy James and the Shondells single.

15. “When The Levee Breaks" — Led Zeppelin (1971) // Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie (1929)

The Cover

The Original

In 1971, British rock band Led Zeppelin re-arranged and popularized the song “When the Levee Breaks” for their fourth album, which is referred to as Led Zeppelin IV. Husband and wife singer-songwriters Kansas Joe McCoy & Memphis Minnie originally recorded “When the Levee Breaks” as a blues song in 1929 about the Great Mississippi Flood that took place a few years earlier. But Led Zeppelin’s arena rock anthem became an iconic piece of music from the '70s, and the song would go on to be highly influential among rock bands and hip-hop artists since its release.

16. “Hard To Handle” — The Black Crowes (1990) // Otis Redding (1968)

The Cover

The Original

Posthumously released on the aptly titled “The Immortal Otis Redding” in 1968, “Hard To Handle” was a fitting single for a legendary musician. While the single only reached No. 38 on the R&B charts, a cover by the Georgia-based band The Black Crowes was their breakthrough single—it reached the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Album Rock Tracks in 1990.

17. “I Swear” — All-4-One (April 1994) // John Michael Montgomery (1993)

The Cover

The Original

American songwriters Gary Baker and Frank J. Myers wrote the love ballad “I Swear” for country music recording artist John Michael Montgomery, who released it in December 1993. The single reached the No. 1 spot on the U.S. Hot Country Singles and Tracks chart, and crossed over to the Billboard Hot 100, hitting No. 42.

A few months later in April 1994, the R&B quartet All-4-One released their rendition of “I Swear,” which became a bigger hit than the original. Their version reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 and was certified Platinum by the end of 1994.

18. “Don’t Cha” — The Pussycat Dolls (April 2005) // Tori Alamaze (March 2005)

The Cover

The Original

In March 2005, recording artist Tori Alamaze released “Don’t Cha” as her debut single. When the song failed to gain mainstream attention, Universal Records dropped Alamaze from their label and the song’s producer CeeLo Green gave the song to the girl group The Pussycat Dolls.

Just one month later, The Pussycat Dolls released “Don’t Cha” as their debut single, and the song received positive reviews and reached No. 2 on Billboard. The Pussycat Dolls’ version went on to sell more than 6 million copies worldwide, while Alamaze was all but forgotten.

19. “The Tide Is High” — Blondie (1980) // The Paragons (1967)

The Cover

The Original

The Paragons were a Jamaican ska/rockstead band whose vocal harmonies were influenced by American soul and R&B groups. In 1967, they released a single called “The Tide is High,” written by band member John Holt. Thirteen years later, Blondie guitarist Chris Stein discovered the track on a reggae compilation album he’d bought in England. Blondie recorded it for their Autoamerican album, adding strings and a horn section (borrowed from Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band). “The Tide is High” went on to become Blondie’s second No. 1 single.

20. “Black and White” — Three Dog Night (1972) // Greyhound (1971)

The Cover

The Original

“Black and White” was written in 1954 by David Arkin and Earl Robinson in response to the Brown vs The Topeka Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed racial segregation in U.S. public schools. Several artists recorded the tune—Pete Seeger and Sammy Davis Jr. among them—but a British reggae group called Greyhound took it to the U.K. Top 10 in 1971. A year later, American band Three Dog Night recorded the song and topped both the Billboard pop and easy listening charts.

NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
The 12 Men Who Walked on the Moon
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt
NASA / Harrison H. Schmitt

If you were born after the Apollo program, and maybe even if you remember those days, it seems almost unbelievable that NASA sent manned missions to the moon 239,000 miles away. People continue to express sadness at the fact that the Apollo lunar missions were so long ago, and that soon there will be no one left alive who actually went to the moon. Today, Alan Bean—the fourth man to walk on the moon and the last surviving member of the Apollo 12 mission—passed away at the age of 86. Which makes it the perfect time to remember—or get to know—the only 12 people who ever walked on a body other than planet Earth.


Navy test pilot, engineer, and Korean War veteran Neil Armstrong left the Navy in 1952, but continued in the Naval Reserve. He worked as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) beginning in 1955, which evolved into NASA. Armstrong was assigned as an astronaut in 1962, and flew on the Gemini 8 mission in 1966, where he performed the first successful space docking procedure. Armstrong was selected to be the first man to walk on the moon, as the Apollo 11 mission was planned, for several reasons: he was the commander of the mission, he didn't have a big ego, and the door of the lunar lander was on his side. Although the first steps on the moon are what he will always be known for, Armstrong considered the mission's biggest accomplishment was landing the lunar module. He later said,

Pilots take no special joy in walking: pilots like flying. Pilots generally take pride in a good landing, not in getting out of the vehicle.

Armstrong along with his crew were honored with parades, awards, and acclaim after their return to Earth, but Armstrong always gave credit to the entire NASA team for the Apollo moon missions. He resigned from NASA in 1971 and became a professor of of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for eight years. Armstrong served on the boards of many corporations and foundations, but gradually withdrew from publicity tours and autograph signings. He didn't particularly care for fame.

Neil Armstrong died on August 25, 2012, at age 82. His family released a statement that concluded:

“For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”


After graduating third in his class at West Point in 1951 with a degree in science, Buzz Aldrin flew 66 combat missions as an Air Force pilot in the Korean War. Then he earned a PhD at MIT. Aldrin joined NASA as an astronaut in 1963. In 1966 he flew in the Gemini 12 spacecraft on the final Gemini mission.

Aldrin accompanied Neil Armstrong on the first moon landing in the Apollo 11 mission, becoming the second person, and now the first of the living astronauts, to set foot on the moon. Aldrin had taken a home Communion kit with him, and took Communion on the lunar surface, but did not broadcast the fact. Aldrin retired from NASA in 1971 and from the Air Force in 1972. He later suffered from clinical depression and wrote about the experience, but recovered with treatment. Aldrin has co-authored five books about his experiences and the space program, plus two novels. Aldrin, who is now 88 years old, continues to work to promote space exploration.


Pete Conrad was a Princeton graduate and Navy test pilot before entering the astronaut corps in 1962. He flew on the Gemini V mission and was commander of Gemini XI. Conrad was commander of the Apollo 12 mission, launched during a lightning storm which temporarily knocked out the command module's power shortly after liftoff. When Conrad stepped onto the moon, he said,

Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me.

Conrad later flew on the Skylab 2 mission as commander with the first crew to board the space station. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1973, after which he worked for American Television and Communications Company and then for McDonnell Douglas.

Pete Conrad died on July 8, 1999 in a motorcycle accident. He was 69.


Apollo astronaut Alan Bean was the fourth man to walk on the moon, during the Apollo 12 mission in 1969. He was the lunar module pilot. Bean was also the commander of the Skylab Mission II in 1973, which spent 59 days in flight. Altogether, Bean logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space. Bean is the only artist to have visited another world, so his paintings of the lunar environment have the authenticity of an eyewitness. He retired from the Navy with the rank of Captain, but continued to train astronauts at NASA until 1981, when he retired to devote time to his art.

Bean died on May 26, 2018 at the age of 86.


Alan Shepard was a bona-fide space pioneer who cemented his spot in history long before the Apollo program. A U.S. Navy test pilot, he was selected as one of the original Mercury astronauts in 1959. Shepard was the first American launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 spacecraft on May 5, 1961. His suborbital flight reached an altitude of 116 miles.

Barred from flight during the Gemini program because of an inner ear problem, Shepard had the problem fixed surgically and was assigned as commander of the Apollo 14 mission to the moon. He was responsible for the most accurate lunar module landing ever, and spent 9 hours and 17 minutes exploring the moon's surface outside the module. During that time, he famously knocked a couple of golf balls with a six-iron attached to his sample-collecting tool. With one arm (due to the space suit), he managed to drive further than professional golfers on Earth could ever hope to, thanks to the moon's lower gravity.

Before and after his Apollo mission, Shepard served as Chief of the Astronaut Office. He retired from NASA and the Navy in 1974, having achieved the rank of Rear Admiral. Shepard went into private business, serving on the board of several corporations and foundations. He founded Seven Fourteen Enterprises, an umbrella corporation named after his two space missions. Shepard wrote a book with Deke Slayton, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America's Race to the Moon. Shepard compared his book to The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe, saying, "'We wanted to call ours 'The Real Stuff,' since his was just fiction.''

Alan Shepard died on July 21, 1998 at the age of 74.


Ed Mitchell joined the Navy in 1952 and became a test pilot. Then he earned a PhD in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT. NASA selected him for the astronaut corps in 1966. In January of 1971, Mitchell flew on Apollo 14 as lunar module pilot, becoming the sixth man to walk on the lunar surface. He retired in 1972 and founded the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which explores psychic and paranormal events. Mitchell gained some notoriety after NASA for his views on UFOs, as he has asserted that the government is covering up evidence at Roswell. His information, he admitted, came secondhand from various sources.

Mitchell died on February 4, 2016, the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.


David Scott joined the Air Force after graduating from West Point. Selected as an astronaut in 1963, he flew with Neil Armstrong on the Gemini 8 mission and was command module pilot on Apollo 9. Scott then went to the moon on Apollo 15, which landed on the lunar surface on July 30, 1971. It was the first mission to land near mountains. Scott and Jim Irwin spent 18 hours exploring the lunar landscape in the Lunar Roving Vehicle in the first mission to use such a vehicle to travel on the moon.

Scott became famous for the "postage stamp incident," in which he took unauthorized postage stamp covers to the moon with the intent to sell them afterwards. NASA had turned a blind eye to such activities before, but publicity over the matter caused them to discipline Scott and he never flew again. Scott retired from NASA in 1977 and served as a consultant for several movies and TV shows about the space program. He also wrote a book with former cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race.

David Scott is 85 years old.


Air Force test pilot James Irwin became an astronaut in 1966. He was the lunar module pilot for Apollo 15 in 1971. His 18.5 hours of lunar surface exploration included gathering many samples of rocks. The astronauts' medical conditions were being monitored from Earth, and they noticed Irwin developing symptoms of heart trouble. As he was breathing 100% oxygen and under lower gravity than on Earth, mission control decided he was in the best environment possible for such irregularity -under the circumstances. Irwin's heart rhythm was normal by the time Apollo 15 returned to Earth, but he had a heart attack a few months later. Irwin retired from NASA and the Air Force (with the rank of Colonel) in 1972 and founded the High Flight Foundation in order to spread the Christian gospel during the last twenty years of his life. He notably took several groups on expeditions to Mt. Ararat to search for Noah's Ark.

James Irwin died on August 8, 1991, of a heart attack. He was 61 years old.


John Young is so far the longest serving astronaut in NASA history. He was selected as an astronaut in 1962 and his first space flight was in 1965 aboard Gemini 3 with Gus Grissom. He achieved some notoriety at that time by smuggling a corned beef sandwich onto the flight, angering NASA. But Young went on to complete a total of six space missions in the Gemini, Apollo, and the space shuttle programs. He orbited the moon on the Apollo 10 mission, then was commander of the Apollo 16 mission and became the ninth person to walk on the moon. Young was also commander of the first space shuttle flight in 1981 and returned for shuttle flight 9 in 1983, which deployed the first Spacelab module. Young was also scheduled for another space shuttle flight in 1986, which was delayed after the Challenger disaster, so the veteran astronaut never made his seventh flight. Young finally retired from NASA after 42 years of service in 2004.

John Young died on January 5, 2018 at the age of 87 following complications with pneumonia.


Astronaut Charles Duke was capcom during the Apollo 11 mission. His is the voice you recall saying, "Roger, Twank... Tranquility, we copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We're breathing again. Thanks a lot!" when the lunar module landed on the moon. Duke also made history by catching German measles while training in the backup crew for the Apollo 13 mission, exposing the crew to the disease and causing Ken Mattingly to be replaced by Jack Swigart on that terrifying spaceflight. Duke went to the moon (with Mattingly as command module pilot) on the Apollo 16 mission in April of 1972. He retired from NASA in 1975 having reached the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force, and founded Duke Investments. Duke also became a Christian and a lay minister to prison inmates.

Charles Duke is 82 years old.


Jack Schmitt was a geologist first, and trained as a pilot only after becoming a NASA astronaut. In fact, he was only the second civilian to fly into space, after Neil Armstrong, who was a veteran at the time of his flights. Schmitt was assigned to fly to the moon on the Apollo 18 mission, but when the Apollo 18 and 19 missions were cancelled in September of 1970, the scientific community lobbied to have Schmitt reassigned to Apollo 17 (replacing Joe Engle) as lunar module pilot. He was the first scientist in outer space. On the Apollo 17 mission, he and Gene Cernan spent three days on the lunar surface (a record) and drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle around collecting samples, conducting experiments, and leaving measuring instruments behind. Schmitt and Cernan gathered 250 pounds of lunar material to take back.

After resigning from NASA in 1975, Schmitt, a Republican, was elected Senator for New Mexico and served from 1977 to 1983. He became an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and lives in Silver City, New Mexico. In recent years, Dr. Schmitt's scientific background and political leanings have kept him in the spotlight as he has said that the concept of climate change is "a red herring," and that environmentalism is linked with communism.

Jack Schmitt is 82 years old.


As a Navy pilot, Gene Cernan logged over 5,000 hours flying time. He was accepted into the astronaut program in 1963. Cernan's first space flight was on Gemini IX in 1966, in which he conducted extravehicular activities (a space walk), followed by the Apollo 10 mission in May of 1969, which orbited the moon. Cernan was assigned commander of the Apollo 17 mission before anyone knew it would be the last Apollo mission. Even after the Apollo program was cut, no one knew for sure that travel to the moon would be abandoned for decades. When Schmitt and Cernan boarded their lunar module for the last time on December 13th, 1972, Cernan said:

"I'm on the surface; and, as I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come — but we believe not too long into the future — I'd like to just [say] what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow. And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return: with peace and hope for all mankind. Godspeed the crew of Apollo 17."

Cernan retired from the Navy and from NASA in 1976. He went on to found an aerospace technology firm, and wrote a book about his experiences as an astronaut. He also contributed his talents to ABC-TV as a commentator during shuttle flights and has made appearances on various space specials. In September of 2011, Cernan testified before Congress on the future of the space program.

The space program has never been an entitlement, it's an investment in the future - an investment in technology, jobs, international respect and geo-political leadership, and perhaps most importantly in the inspiration and education of our youth. Those best and brightest minds at NASA and throughout the multitudes of private contractors, large and small, did not join the team to design windmills or redesign gas pedals, but to live their dreams of once again taking us where no man has gone before.

Gene Cernan died on January 16, 2017

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
5 Things You Didn't Know About Sally Ride
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

You know Sally Ride as the first American woman to travel into space. But here are five things you might not know about the astronaut, who was born on this day in 1951.


When Sally Ride made her first space flight in 1983, she was both the first American woman and the youngest American to make the journey to the final frontier. Both of those distinctions show just how qualified and devoted Ride was to her career, but they also opened her up to a slew of absurd questions from the media.

Journalist Michael Ryan recounted some of the sillier questions that had been posed to Ride in a June 1983 profile for People. Among the highlights:

Q: “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?”
A: “There’s no evidence of that.”

Q: “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?”
A: “How come nobody ever asks (a male fellow astronaut) those questions?"

Forget going into space; Ride’s most impressive achievement might have been maintaining her composure in the face of such offensive questions.


When Ride was growing up near Los Angeles, she played more than a little tennis, and she was seriously good at it. She was a nationally ranked juniors player, and by the time she turned 18 in 1969, she was ranked 18th in the whole country. Tennis legend Billie Jean King personally encouraged Ride to turn pro, but she went to Swarthmore instead before eventually transferring to Stanford to finish her undergrad work, a master’s, and a PhD in physics.

King didn’t forget about the young tennis prodigy she had encouraged, though. In 1984 an interviewer playfully asked the tennis star who she’d take to the moon with her, to which King replied, “Tom Selleck, my family, and Sally Ride to get us all back.”


After retiring from space flight, Ride became a vocal advocate for math and science education, particularly for girls. In 2001 she founded Sally Ride Science, a San Diego-based company that creates fun and interesting opportunities for elementary and middle school students to learn about math and science.

Though Ride was an iconic female scientist who earned her doctorate in physics, just like so many other youngsters, she did hit some academic road bumps when she was growing up. In a 2006 interview with USA Today, Ride revealed her weakest subject in school: a seventh-grade home economics class that all girls had to take. As Ride put it, "Can you imagine having to cook and eat tuna casserole at 8 a.m.?"


Ride’s two space flights were aboard the doomed shuttle Challenger, and she was eight months deep into her training program for a third flight aboard the shuttle when it tragically exploded in 1986. Ride learned of that disaster at the worst possible time: she was on a plane when the pilot announced the news.

Ride later told AARP the Magazine that when she heard the midflight announcement, she got out her NASA badge and went to the cockpit so she could listen to radio reports about the fallen shuttle. The disaster meant that Ride wouldn’t make it back into space, but the personal toll was tough to swallow, too. Four of the lost members of Challenger’s crew had been in Ride’s astronaut training class.


A 2003 profile in The New York Times called Ride one of the most famous women on Earth after her two space flights, and it was hard to argue with that statement. Ride could easily have cashed in on the slew of endorsements, movie deals, and ghostwritten book offers that came her way, but she passed on most opportunities to turn a quick buck.

Ride later made a few forays into publishing and endorsements, though. She wrote or co-wrote more than a half-dozen children’s books on scientific themes, including To Space and Back, and in 2009 she appeared in a print ad for Louis Vuitton. Even appearing in an ad wasn’t an effort to pad her bank account, though; the ad featured an Annie Leibovitz photo of Ride with fellow astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Jim Lovell gazing at the moon and stars. According to a spokesperson, all three astronauts donated a “significant portion” of their modeling fees to Al Gore’s Climate Project.


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