American astronaut Sally Ride died on Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was the first American woman in space and was a trailblazer for women in the American space program. She was 61 years old. Terry McEntee, a spokesperson for Sally Ride Science, said Ride died at her home in La Jolla, a suburb of San Diego. McEntee also stated that Ride was a very private person and only a small group of people knew she was sick.
In 1983, Sally Ride traveled to space in the space shuttle Challenger when she was 32 years old. Since her mission, 42 other women made the journey into space following after Ride.
“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” President Barack Obama said in a statement.
Ride was a physicist, an author of five science books for children, and the founder and president of her own company, Sally Ride Science, which develops and provides classroom materials, programs, and professional development opportunities for K-12 educators. Ride founded the company in 2001 and was also a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.
In 1978, Ride earned her doctorate in physics from Stanford University and was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate. Ride logged 343 hours in space by taking two journeys on Challenger in 1983 and 1984. She was scheduled to take a third journey but it was later canceled when Challenger exploded in 1986. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said of Ride:
“[She] broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program. The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Sally Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; a niece and a nephew.