* Ride was astronaut aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1983
* She was also physicist and author of children's science
* President Obama calls Ride "a powerful role model"
(Updates with quotes from President Obama, background)
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla., July 23 Sally Ride, the
first U.S. woman to travel into space and an advocate for
science education, died on Monday after a 17-month battle with
pancreatic cancer, according to her organization, Sally Ride
Science. She was 61.
Ride broke new ground for American women in 1983 when at the
age of 32 she and four male crewmates blasted off aboard space
"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to
go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Ride
recalled in a 2008 interview on the 25th anniversary of her
"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," she
U.S. President Barack Obama called Ride "a national hero and
a powerful role model." In a statement, he said Ride "inspired
generations of young girls to reach for the stars."
Ride was not the first woman in space. That distinction fell
to the Soviet Union's Valentina Tereshkova, who blasted off
aboard a Vostok 6 rocket on June 16, 1963.
But over the years only two other Russian women followed
Tereshkova into orbit.
By the time Ride returned for a second flight in 1984, not
only had another female astronaut, Judith Resnik, flown on the
shuttle, but Ride had a female crewmate, Kathryn Sullivan.
Since then, more than 45 women from the United States and
other countries have flown in space, including two as shuttle
"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism -
and literally changed the face of America's space program," NASA
administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said in a
Ride grew up in Los Angeles and attended Stanford
University, where she earned bachelor's degrees in physics and
English and master's and doctorate degrees in physics. She
joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1978.
She was assigned to a third shuttle flight, but training for
the mission was cut off after the fatal 1986 Challenger accident
that claimed the lives of six colleagues and a schoolteacher.
Ride served as a member of the presidential commission that
investigated the accident, and then assisted the agency's chief
with long-range and strategic planning.
She left NASA in 1987 and joined a Stanford University
security research institute. In 1989, she joined the physics
department at the University of California-San Diego and
directed the California Space Institute.
Ride's interest in education extended to younger students,
whom she targeted with her science education startup Sally Ride
Science in San Diego.
The company creates science programs and publications for
elementary and middle school students and educators.
Ride also authored five science books for children and
served on dozens of NASA, space and technology advisory panels,
including the board that investigated the second fatal space
shuttle accident in 2003.
Ride is survived by her mother; her partner, Tam
O'Shaughnessy; a sister; a niece and a nephew.
(Additional reporting by Dan Burns; Editing by Kevin Gray and