Kristen Stewart cast as trailblazing lesbian astronaut Sally Ride in first lead TV role

Split screen of Kristen Stewart (left) and Sally Ride (right).
Split screen of Kristen Stewart (left) and Sally Ride (right). (Left to right) @wondermeg_ via X, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons

Kristen Stewart has been cast to play Sally Ride, the first American woman and known LGBTQ+ person to fly to space, in a new limited series titled The Challenger. This marks the star’s first-ever lead TV role, following her success in films like Twilight, Spencer, Happiest Season and Love Lies Bleeding.

According to Deadline, the show is based on Meredith E. Bagby’s 2023 book The New Guys: The Historic Class of Astronauts That Broke Barriers and Changed the Face of Space Travel. It follows the story of a group set up by NASA in an attempt to diversify its pilots and crew for the space shuttle program. Ride was one of those involved, alongside the first Black and Asian American astronauts, and a married couple.

Through the class of 1978, Ride enjoyed much success. In 1983, she became the first American woman to fly on the space shuttle, making her an instant celebrity. After her death, her obituary revealed that she was in a same-sex relationship, meaning that she was also the first LGBTQ+ person to make the journey.

However, there were also times of significant tragedy. In 1986, the Challenger space shuttle blew apart 73 seconds into its ascent, killing all seven crew members on board. Ride then became the only astronaut to be part of the Rogers Commission, a presidential group set up to investigate the disaster. She pinpointed problems with O-rings that became stiff at low temperatures and they were ultimately found to be the reason for the explosion. Ride died from cancer in 2012, aged 61.

The series is set to be released in proximity to the Challenger disaster anniversary. Amazon is reportedly close to acquiring the show, which has Maggie Cohn (previously in American Crime Story, The Staircase and Narcos: Mexico) as writer and showrunner. It was developed by Kyra Sedgwick’s Big Swing Productions, with executive producers including Amblin’s Darryl Frank and Justin Falvey, Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners, and Kristen Stewart through Nevermind.

Speaking about the project, Sedgwick said: “This is something we’ve worked on at Big Swing since 2017, me, Meredith and Valerie, about this new class of astronauts recruited by NASA in the early 1970s.”

She continued: “We wanted so much to tell this story as a limited series. Our goal at Big Swing is to tell familiar stories with a new perspective and point of view. I had a relationship with Maggie Cohn, and she fell in love with the book. Valerie had this dream of having Kristen Stewart, and after more than a year of trying to get Kristen this book through back channeling, she read it and she fell in love.

“Getting Kristen and Maggie was incredible, for a company nobody really knows yet. We are three girls with a dream.”

Speaking about Stewart’s involvement, Sedgwick added: “She has never done television, but when she read this she became obsessed with telling the story of Sally Ride from her own unique perspective that I won’t even try to paraphrase because she is so eloquent about it.

“She was so stunning in these pitch meetings and that was a huge part of why it has been so competitive. She’s so compelling and was so rabid about telling this story about an American hero who had to hide who she was, in that time.

“Who better to play Sally Ride than one of the great actors of her generation? As they say in Hollywood, passion wins the day. Her passion for being an executive producer is vast. As dogged as we were about getting the script to her, she has been that dogged about getting it sold in the marketplace.”

Fans can perhaps expect to see Kristen Stewart as Sally Ride sometime in 2026, but if you can’t wait until then, she has also been cast as Susan Sontag in an upcoming biopic and is directing her first film, The Chronology of Water.

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