Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died from pancreatic cancer on Monday. She was 61.
“Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model,” President Barack Obama said in a statement, the Associated Press reports. “She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars.”
In 1983, Ride, then 32, was aboard the Challenger space shuttle, leading the way for dozens of female astronauts. She “broke barriers with grace and professionalism—and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers.”
Ride’s career also included working as a physicist, a children’s science book writer and a physics professor, according to the news service.
“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 said in 2008, AP notes. “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.”
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