Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies

by Raphael Chestang 2:35 PM PDT, July 23, 2012
Photo: Getty Images

Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died today at the age of 61.

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According to her company's website, the trailblazer passed away after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

The physicist and science writer became a household name in 1983 when she broke through barriers, literally and metaphorically, as a part of her historic flight aboard the Challenger's STS-7 mission.

"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Sally recalled in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight. "On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad ... I didn't really think about it that much at the time ... but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space."

After retiring from NASA in 1989, Sally kept busy. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, which works towards "inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering."

"Sally was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. "Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere."

During her storied career, Sally was awarded the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame as well as the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

Sally is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy.