Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, her company said. She was 61.
Ride flew into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983 to become America’s first woman in space. She took a second trip aboard the same shuttle one year later.
The first woman in space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who orbited the Earth 48 times in 1963.
“As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model,” President Barack Obama said soon after news of her death broke.
A Los Angeles native, Ride attended Stanford University, where she earned four degrees, including a doctorate in physics, according to NASA. She joined the agency as part of the class of 1978, the first to include women. Ride responded to an ad in the Stanford student newspaper and was selected from some 8,000 applicants.
She was assigned to a third flight, but that was scratched after the Challenger exploded shortly after lift-off in 1986, claiming the lives of seven crew members on board.
She served as a special assistant to the NASA administrator for long-range and strategic planning and was the first director of NASA’s Office of Exploration, according to her company.
After leaving the agency, Ride joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, where she was a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. She was also the author of several books.
During a 2008 interview with CNN, Ride recalled what it felt like to look back on Earth, saying the view gave her a new perspective.
“You can’t get it just standing on the ground, with your feet firmly planted on Earth. You can only get it from space, and it’s just remarkable how beautiful our planet is and how fragile it looks,” she said.
Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, her mother, her sister and other family members.