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Sally Ride, astronaut who rode into history, dead of pancreatic cancer

FILE - This undated phoreleased by NASA shows astronaut Sally Ride. Ride first American woman space died Monday July 23

FILE - This undated photo released by NASA shows astronaut Sally Ride. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/NASA, File)

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Updated: July 24, 2012 1:35PM



Pioneering astronaut Sally Ride — the first American woman in space — died Monday in La Jolla, Calif., after fighting pancreatic cancer for 17 months, according to the company she founded, Sally Ride Science.

She was 61.

NASA confirmed her death.

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. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve.”

Ride, who was a physicist, became a household name and a symbol for young girls nationwide when, at age 32, she rode the space shuttle Challenger into space as a mission specialist on June 18, 1983, soaring into history.

“The thing that I’ll remember most about the flight is that it was fun,” Ride said on her company’s website. “In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun I’ll ever have in my life.”

She’d become an astronaut after seeing an ad placed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1977 in the Stanford University student newspaper looking for astronauts. She was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford at the time in physics, with degrees already in hand from Stanford in physics and English.

Until then, all American astronauts were male, largely taken from the ranks of military test pilots. But NASA decided to seek out scientists and engineers to join the astronaut corps, and Ride sent in her application — as did about 8,000 other people.

Thirty-five new astronauts were chosen from that group, including Ride and five other women.

Ride returned to space on Oct. 5, 1984, again aboard Challenger, on the 13th space shuttle flight.

She was assigned to what would have been a third shuttle flight for her, but training for that mission was scrubbed in January 1986 after the Challenger exploded soon after takeoff, killing all seven crew members, including

Christa McAuliffe, the first member of the Teacher in Space Project .

Ride served on the presidential commission that investigated the crash.

After that, she served at NASA headquarters as special assistant to the administrator for long-range and strategic planning and became the first director of the space agency’s Office of Exploration.

“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. 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.”

After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride returned to Stanford as a science fellow at the Center for International Security and Arms Control there. In 1989, she moved to the faculty of the University of California San Diego as a physics professor and director of the California Space Institute.

In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, where she worked to encourage “young girls and boys to stick with their interests in science and to consider pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and math.”

She also wrote seven science books for children.

Sally Kristen Ride was born in Encino, Calif., on May 26, 1951. She grew up in Encino and, as a girl, loved to play with her telescope and chemistry set. She siad her parents encouraged her interest in science.

Ride once told an interviewer how she first grew interested in space exploration during her youth thanks to a teacher.

“I was an ordinary girl, nothing special,” she said. “You wouldn’t have picked me out of a crowd.”

Then, she said, a teacher had her class watch an early space shot on TV, and she was hooked.

As a girl, she also was a competitive athlete, taking part in national junior tennis tournaments and winning a tennis scholarship to Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles.

She is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; and a sister, Bear.



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