Sally Ride in her NASA days (Photo : Flickr)
Astronaut Sally Ride has died after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61, and was the third woman and first American woman in space.
Born and raised in Encino, California, Ride won a tennis scholarship to the Westlake School for Girls in Los Angeles. She obtained degrees in physics and English from Stanford University, and was about to receive her Ph.D in physics from there in 1977 when she saw an ad in the student newspaper advising that NASA was looking for astronauts.
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She was one of 35 individuals selected out of an applicant pool of 8,000 to join the astronaut corps. Six of those selected were women.
NASA selected her as an astronaut candidate in January of 1978, and after a year of training she became eligible to join a space shuttle flight crew. Her first journey into space was as a mission specialist aboard the Challenger in June of 1983.
The mission lasted 147 hours, and Ride said of it, "The thing that I'll remember most about the flight is that it was fun. In fact, I'm sure it was the most fun I'll ever have in my life."
Her second mission, in 1984, was also aboard the Challenger. She later served on the Presidential commission investigating the shuttle's explosion. Also during her NASA career, she served as special assistant to the administrator for long-range and strategic planning and as the first director of the space program's Office of Exploration.
Retiring from NASA in 1987, she pursued a career in academia, first at Stanford and then at the University of California San Diego. In 2001, she founded Sally Ride Science, with the aim of encouraging children to study science and consider pursuing careers in it. Today the company has 40 employees.
Married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley from 1982 to 1987, Ride was in a 27-year relationship with Tam O'Shaughnessy at the time of her death. O'Shaughnessy, herself a former science teacher, is the chief operating office and executive vice president of Ride's company, and the two coauthored seven children's science books together.