Dr. Ride died at 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer

By Maggie Coughlan
July 23, 2012 05:00 PM

Dr. Sally Ride, the first American woman to travel to space, has died at 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

On June 18, 1983 Ride captivated the nation when she became the first American woman (and then youngest American) to enter space aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger.

In 1984, she traveled to space again aboard the Challenger. She was later named to the Presidential Commission investigating the 1986 accident. After the investigation, she worked at NASA Headquarters as Special Assistant to the Administrator for long range and strategic planning.

In 1989, Dr. Ride joined University of California, San Diego as a Professor of Physics and Director of the University of California s California Space Institute.

Ride used her experience as an astronaut to encourage more women to get involved with science. In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science, which develops science programs and publications from upper elementary and middle school students.

“My mission these days is to improve science education and particularly to encourage more girls and young women to go on in careers in science and math and technology or to at least explore the opportunities in those fields,” Ride told members of the Allegheny County Women’s Leadership Council in 2007.

“The philosophy we have is that we don’t have to convert kids, even girls, to science. Let’s just give them opportunities to explore those interests and show them that there are lots of other girls, normal kids, who share those interests and that there are lots of women who go on to careers that they love in science and engineering.”