WASHINGTON – Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space, died Monday at age 61, her company and NASA said.
She had suffered pancreatic cancer for 17 months, her company said in a statement.
Ride’s 1983 flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger on a six-day mission that deployed two satellites made her the first American woman in space.
She described the first glimpse of Earth from space as “just a spectacular view, and a chance to see our planet as a planet, which very few people have the opportunity to do.”
A year later, Ride flew on a second eight-day shuttle mission that launched the first satellite to study the effect of greenhouses gases on Earth’s atmosphere. That was the first flight to include two women and with five astronauts was at the time the largest crew to have flown in a shuttle.
“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Ride joined NASA in 1978 in the first astronaut training class to include women.
She was preceded into space by two Soviet women. The first woman to travel to space, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, had made the trip in 1963.
President Barack Obama called Ride “a national hero and a powerful role model.”
“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 and math in our schools,” he said.
After leaving NASA in 1989, she became a professor at the University of California at San Diego and sought to encourage girls to pursue careers in science through her company, Sally Ride Science. She also wrote children’s books on space and science.
Ride was born in 1951 in Los Angeles and earned four academic degrees, including a doctorate in physics from Stanford University.