Sally Ride, First U.S. Female in Space, Dead at 61

Celebrity News Jul. 23, 2012 AT 7:15PM
NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride, the Space Shuttle Challenger crew member, pose in January 1983 in Johnson Space Center, Houston. Sally Ride and other four NASA Astronauts will be aboard the Shuttle Challenger for NASA STS-7 mission, scheduled of June 1983. NASA astronaut Sally K. Ride, the Space Shuttle Challenger crew member, pose in January 1983 in Johnson Space Center, Houston. Sally Ride and other four NASA Astronauts will be aboard the Shuttle Challenger for NASA STS-7 mission, scheduled of June 1983. Credit: AFP/Getty Images

As the first American woman in space, Sally Ride broke numerous barriers -- and continued to break them until her tragic death at the age of 61.

The former astronaut passed away Monday after battling pancreatic cancer for more than 17 months, her organization, Sally Ride Science, said on its website.

At the age of 32, Ride made a name for herself as the first female U.S. citizen -- and youngest astronaut ever -- to head into space, as part of the 1983 Challenger crew.

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She continued to be employed by NASA until 1989; during her time there she served as a member of the commission responsible for investigating the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Following her NASA career, the physicist dedicated her life to academia, working as a professor at Stanford University and founding the Sally Ride Science organization in 2001 -- a group dedicated to fostering interest in math and the sciences among young women.

Ride "literally changed the face of America's space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Reuters in a statement Monday. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers, and explorers . . . She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."

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Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaugnessy, as well as her mother, Joyce, and her sister, Bear.

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