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Sally Ride, First American Woman In Space, Died Monday Of Cancer

Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died Monday in La Jolla after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her website, She was 61.

Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died Monday in La Jolla after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her website, She was 61.

San Diego Women's Hall of Fame

Video of Sally Ride's career shown at the San Diego Women's Hall of Fame in 2006.


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Above: Sally Ride talks to KPBS in 2006 about her book, "The Mystery of Mars."

"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment, and love," a statement on the website read. "Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless."

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. She blasted off aboard Challenger, culminating a long journey that started in 1977 when the Ph.D candidate answered an ad seeking astronauts for NASA missions.

Ride joined the faculty at UC San Diego as a physics professor in 1989. She was inducted into the San Diego Women's Hall of Fame in 2006 with the title of Spirit of Women's Hall.

According to her official biography, by the time Ride decided to apply to become an astronaut, she had already received degrees in physics and English and was on her way to a Ph.D in physics from Stanford University.

According to her NASA biography, Ride went back into space in October of 1984. She was assigned to another mission after that, but it was scrapped after the shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986.

Ride was also a science writer and president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. As NASA puts it, the company allowed her to "pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology."

Born in Encino, Calif. on May 26, 1951, Ride was a "tomboy," racing her father for the sports section of the newspaper when she was 5 years old, according to Karen O'Connor, who chronicled her early life in "Sally Ride and the New Astronauts."

Becoming an astronaut had a bit to do with luck. The same year she started job hunting, NASA opened up its space program to people beyond military pilots.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America's space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. "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."

In 2008, Ride talked to KPBS’ “These Days” about her groundbreaking flight aboard the space shuttle Challenger.

“I felt like I was doing something extraordinary for myself," she said. "That’s something I’d dreamed of doing since I was a young girl, and to actually get a chance to strap into a rocket, blast off a launchpad, travel 17,500 miles an hour, float weightless in space and look back at the spectacular view of our planet was just something I never would have believed was possible.”

Ride said the experience of being in space is indescribable—like nothing you will ever feel with two feet on Earth.

“I think the thing that was most striking to me was a view of our planet, looking back on our planet, and the appreciation that that gives you for how fragile our planet is,” she said.

Ride wrote many books, including "The Mystery of Mars," "Exploring our Solar System" and "The Third Planet: Exploring the Earth from Space."

"Sally's historic flight into space captured the nation's imagination and made her a household name," Sally Ride Science said in its statement. "She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately--inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering."

Ride is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney.

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