Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies

Peter Pachal
Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies
Sally-Ride-640

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

[More from Mashable: NASA’s Space Shuttle Enterprise Lands in New York [VIDEO]]

Ride made history when she became the first woman from the U.S. to reach orbit aboard Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. She was 32 at the time, and for a while was also the youngest American to ever travel to space.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism -- and literally changed the face of America’s space program," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden 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."

[More from Mashable: Up Close With the Space Shuttle Enterprise]

Ride first joined NASA in 1978, After her two trips on board the Space Shuttle in the '80s, she left NASA to teach physics as a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and served as director of the university's Space Institute.

Ride is the only person to serve on both investigation boards of the two Space Shuttle disasters, Challenger and Columbia. In 2009, she also was a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009, which NASA says informed many recent decisions about human spaceflight.

Although Ride was the first American woman in space, the first woman was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, who piloted the USSR's Vostok 6 into orbit in 1963.

In the course of her career, Ride has been inducted into both the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame. She's also written or co-written five children's books about space.

This story originally published on Mashable here.