Former Astronaut Sally Ride Dies in La Jolla

San Diego legend and first U.S. woman in space succumbs to cancer

Former astronaut and UC San Diego legacy Sally Ride has died after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.

The renowned physicist and award-winning space explorer died peacefully in her La Jolla home Monday morning at the age of 61. She was surrounded by her family and friends, a spokesperson with Sally Ride Science confirmed. 

"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love," read a statement on her website. "Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless."

In 1977 NASA began looking for scientists and engineers; they previously only accepted military test pilots. Ride held degrees in English and physics from Stanford University when she read about the new NASA qualifications in the newspaper.

She flew into space aboard the Challenger shuttle on June 18, 1983. She was just 31 years old.

One year later, she went to space again aboard the STS 41-G.

"The thing that I’ll remember most about the flight is that it was fun," Ride is quoted as saying in her biography. “In fact, I’m sure it was the most fun I’ll ever have in my life.”

Ride and her crew aboard the Challenger during its first mission deployed several satellites and conducted small experiments for research institutions.

"I'm very proud of having been the first American woman to go up in the space shuttle and to have accomplished what i was supposed to accomplish during that flight," said Ride during an interview with NBC 7 in 1998.

Watch the exclusive interview here.

In the interview, Ride was modest about her impact on the science world, and avoided glorifying her space exploration endeavors.

"I didn't really feel like a hero," Ride said. "I didn't really feel like a pioneer."

She added that she would have loved to go back into space, and would jump at the chance.

NASA issued a statement Monday following the news of Ride's passing.

"The soft-spoken California physicist broke the gender barrier 29 years ago when she rode to orbit aboard space shuttle Challenger to become America’s first woman in space," the statement, in part, read.

After she retired from NASA in 1987, she started Sally Ride Science in San Diego, a program encouraging young boys and girls to pursue education and careers in science and technology.

She remained active in the lives of young students, appearing more recently at the San Diego Air and Space Museum's Space Day celebration in May.

“She wanted to make sure that middle school girls coming after her could break their own barriers and open their own doors in whatever field – science, math, engineering, they chose,” said Francis French with the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

Ride was also a Professor of Physics Emerita at the UC San Diego, according to the university's website.

Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy. The two met as children and wrote several books about space exploration together. Ride is also survived by her mother, Joyce and sister, Bear.

Check back for more information on this developing story.

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