HOUSTON -- Sally Ride, the soft-spoken California physicist who broke the gender barrier 29 years ago when she became the first American woman in space, died Monday at age 61.
Ride passed away after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her company’s website.
"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."
Ride joined NASA with the 1978 astronaut class, which was the first to include women. She, along with 29 men and five other women, were selected out of 8,000 participants, according to NASA.gov.
Her place in history was assured when she rocketed into space aboard the shuttle Challenger's STS-7 mission with four male crewmates.
"Sally was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. "Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere."