Sally Ride, The First American Woman in Space, Succumbs to Cancer at 61

Early this morning, astronaut and physicist Sally Ride passed away after a 61-year-long life of exploration, boundary breaking, and ass kicking. When she blasted into space in 1983, she became the youngest American and the first American woman to leave the earth's atmosphere, thus igniting space camp dreams in a generation of girls.

According to Ride's company's website website, her death comes at the end of a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sally Ride received her master's degree and Ph. D in astrophysics at Stanford, but her career as an astronaut didn't begin until she was one of 8,000 people who answered a newspaper ad looking for parties interested in the space program. She served on the ground crew for a couple of shuttle flights before being sent to space nearly 30 years ago. By the end of her NASA career, she logged more than 14 days in space.

Following her retirement from NASA, she worked as a professor, helped NASA with investigations post-disaster investigations (she was the only person to have served on the committees investigating both the Challenger and Columbia), and founded Sally Ride Science in 2001, a program that aims to make science interesting for elementary and middle school students, especially girls, with the hope that they'll eventually pursue careers in science and engineering. She's also written several science books for children.

Her company's website also notes that she's survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her frequent co-author, longtime friend (the two women had known each other since the age of 12), and partner of 27 years, as well as several relatives, friends, and colleagues. From the obituary,

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

I wasn't born yet when Ride made her historic first spaceflight in the summer of 1983, but I'll never forget being a nerdy kid interested in astronomy and physics, paging through my WORLD AND SPACE volume of my brand new Childcraft encyclopedias until I got to the part about astronauts, thumbing through my fourth grade science book to the chapter on SPACE and finding her picture, an anomaly among the crew cutted men with the Leave it to Beaver smiles. Sally Ride, with her puffy 80's hair, smiling, confident, smart, powerful, strong. A woman in a space suit! Girls my age — and women of every age — are lucky to have lived with a role model like her.

[Sally Ride Science]