Sally Ride on the Challenger space missionEven though she was well known as a physicist, Sally Ride became famous for being the first American woman astronaut to enter space. A trailblazer when the 1983 Challenger mission launched, she also became, at age 32, the youngest American to enter space, a record still unbroken.

Ride died peacefully on July 23, after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to the obituary released by her company, Sally Ride Science, which creates programs to keep preteens and their teachers engaged in science:

“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.”

Ride was born in 1951 and raised in Encino, California. As a young girl, she was fascinated by science. Ride credited her parents with encouraging an interest in playing with a chemistry set and telescope.

In 1987, she left NASA to work at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989, Ride joined the faculty at the University of California San Diego as a professor of physics and director of the California Space Institute. In 2001 she founded her own company.

The 61-year-old also co-wrote seven science books for children.

She is survived by her female partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, her mom and family, her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

Read another tribute from a colleague, “Thank you, Sally Ride,” at CNN.

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