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Sally Ride, first American woman in space, dies at age 61

By Seth Borenstein

AP Science Writer


WASHINGTON >> Sally Ride, who blazed trails into orbit as the first American woman in space, died Monday of pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Ride died at her home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, said Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman for her company, Sally Ride Science. She was a private person and the details of her illness were kept to just a few people, she said.

Ride rode into space on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 when she was 32. After her flight, more than 42 other American women flew in space, NASA said.

“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.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said Ride “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,” he said in a statement.

Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.

She was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978, the same year she earned her doctorate in physics from Stanford University. She beat out five women to be the first American female in space. Her first flight came two decades after the Soviets sent a woman into space

“On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad,” Ride recalled in a NASA interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008.  “I didn’t really think about it that much at the time —  but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space.” 

Ride flew in space twice, both times on Challenger in 1983 and in 1984, logging 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards. 

She also was on the president’s committee of science advisers.

One of Ride’s last legacies was allowing middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA’s twin Grail spacecraft in a project spearheaded by her company.

“Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that’s such a powerful thing. It’s extraordinarily admirable,” said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.

Ride’s office said she is survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.


Science Writer Alicia Chang contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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allie wrote:
on July 23,2012 | 12:26PM
Publicbraddah wrote:
An exceptional human being.
on July 23,2012 | 12:52PM
cojef wrote:
Sad day for America and for her family. Condolences.
on July 23,2012 | 01:53PM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
Trail blazer.
on July 23,2012 | 05:39PM
drgtherocker wrote:
Sally Ride made a huge difference. A true inspiration. Scholar. Scientist. Astronaut. Role model for generations. Interesting that our society obsesses about airhead clowns like the Kardashians (who earn millions). Sally Ride, on the other hand, lives quietly, without fanfare. Unfortunately, didn't allow us a full opportunity to show our love and respect for her. Her choice, of course, and it appears she lived with integrity. Hey Kardashians, do you get it?
on July 23,2012 | 06:22PM
64hoo wrote:
i wonder why when all these astronauts that died years ago they never asked to be buried in space' i think that would be a right thing to do since they love space travel. just a thought. not insults.
on July 23,2012 | 11:21PM
LMO wrote:
because the definition of Buried is "To place in the ground." You cannot be buried in space. You have to be launched in to it.
on July 24,2012 | 04:14AM
Ldub20_Owl316 wrote:
on July 23,2012 | 11:54PM
LMO wrote:
“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. Sadly, no other American women will have this opportunity, because President Obama has, effectively, cancelled our space program. He is a great disappointment. We will miss Sally Ride.
on July 24,2012 | 04:12AM
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