Former astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died of cancer today at the age of 61, according to her organization's website, which has since crashed.
Born in Los Angeles, Ride earned multiple degrees in physics and English from Stanford in the late '70s, which is also when she replied to an ad seeking NASA astronauts, according to information from NPR and NASA. She took the first of her two trips into space on June 18, 1983, becoming one of the most famous astronauts of NASA's now-gone shuttle era.
Ride spent her years after space flight as an educator and author of space-themed children's books; she was also the only person to serve on the investigatory boards of both the Challenger and Columbia shuttle disasters. She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003.
Another astronaut, 50-year-old Alan Poindexter, died last month in a Pensacola jet-ski accident. With Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin turning 82 this year, the scuttling of the shuttle program (and 23,000 Florida jobs), and, now, the death of a space-travel icon, one can't help but wonder: How long will we have space heroes to celebrate?
Here's the statement released this afternoon by Sally Ride Science:
Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.
Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.
Sally's historic flight into space captured the nation's imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately--inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.
In addition to Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.