Sally Ride, one of the great pioneers of the NASA space program and the first American woman to go into orbit, has died from pancreatic cancer at her San Diego home. She was 61.
Ride first made history on 18 June 1983 at just 32 years old when she rode aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger. In the almost thirty years since her historic launch into space, a full 42 American women have followed in her footsteps.
In 1983 she became an instant hero to girls and women the world over, giving them, in the words of President Obama, "a powerful role model" who "inspired young girls to reach for the stars."
Remarkably, NASA only began allowing women to join the space program in 1978—about fifteen years after the Soviet space program became the first to put a woman into orbit. At that time, Ride was one of the initial six women who joined. Five years later she would find herself on the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center on the cusp of history, with such feminist notables as Gloria Steinem present for the occasion.
Yet for Ride, that historic launch was not a great moment in feminism; it was another day at the office. Her professionalism and her devotion to science are what have contributed to her reputation while with NASA and they remain what will boost her legacy in the future.
Being an astronaut was only part of who Sally Ride was. She was a physicist and children's books author, she taught physics at the University of California at San Diego, and she ran her own company.