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Sally Ride, First American Woman in Space, Dies at 61

July 23, 2012

Sally Ride, First American Woman to Reach Space, Dies at 61

NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride, the Space Shuttle Challenger crew member, in a 1983 photo at the Johnson Space Center, Houston. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Sally Ride, the NASA flight engineer who became the first American woman in space when the shuttle Challenger roared into orbit in June 1983, has died. She was 61.

She died today after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a statement from San Diego-based Sally Ride Science, a provider of educational programs that she founded in 2001. NASA confirmed her death on its website.

The successful six-day mission officially designated STS-7 in 1983 gave Ride a place in American history, one she accepted with mixed feelings. “It’s too bad this is such a big deal,” she said at one pre-flight NASA news conference. “It’s too bad our society isn’t further along.”

She returned to space in October 1984 as mission specialist on STS 41-G, also on the Challenger. That eight-day mission included a second female astronaut, Kathryn D. Sullivan, who became the first woman to perform a spacewalk.

Ride was scheduled for a third mission that was canceled following the 1986 disintegration of the Challenger 73 seconds after liftoff. She served on the presidential commission that investigated the accident.

After leaving NASA, she joined the faculty of the University of California-San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles, the daughter of Joyce and Dale B. Ride. At Stanford University, she earned undergraduate degrees in physics and English in 1973, a master’s degree in science in 1975 and a Ph.D. in physics in 1978, according to the NASA biography.

NASA selected her for astronaut training in January 1978.

An advocate for better science and math education, Ride wrote five science books for children.

In addition to her mother, Ride’s survivors include Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, and a sister, Joyce, according to the news release.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laurence Arnold in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Charles W. Stevens at

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