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July 24, 2012

Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at Age 61

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By: BNO News
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Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck of Space Shuttle Challenger during her first mission in space, STS-7. (Photo by NASA)
Sally Ride communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck of Space Shuttle Challenger during her first mission in space, STS-7. (Photo by NASA)
Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died in California on Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, her office said in a statement. She was 61.

Ride was born and raised in Encino, California, and first joined NASA in January 1978, just before finishing her Ph.D. in Physics at Stanford University. After spending a year training, Ride became eligible to be assigned as an astronaut on a space shuttle flight crew, and on June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger for the mission STS-7.

A statement released by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden expressed Ride’s inspirational impact on the nation. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly.”

In 2008, in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight, Ride recalled, “the fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it. And that was made pretty clear just the day that I was told I was selected to the crew, because I was also taken up to Chris Kraft’s office – he was the head of the Johnson Space Center – because he wanted to have a little chat with me and make sure I knew what I was getting into before I agreed to be on the crew. But I was so dazzled just by the opportunity to be on the crew and go into space that I really don’t remember very much of what he said.”

After retiring from the space agency in 1987, Ride founded her own company in 2001, Sally Ride Science, to motivate young children to stick with their interests in science and to encourage them to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

President Obama said he and his wife Michelle were deeply saddened to hear of Ride’s passing. “As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and powerful role model,” he said. “She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science in math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubts that her legacy will endure for years to come.”

Former NASA astronaut Steve Hawley, who was married to Ride from 1982 until 1987, said she never enjoyed being a celebrity but recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential. “Sally was a very private person who found herself a very public persona,” he said. “It was a role in which she was never fully comfortable. I was privileged to be a part of her life and be in a position to support her as she became the first American woman to fly in space.”

Ride is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, and by her mother, Joyce.

Launch of Shuttle Challenger on STS-7 Carrying Sally Ride, June 18, 1983