WASHINGTON — Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to fly in space, died July 23 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to a statement issued by her San Diego-based science curriculum company Sally Ride Science.  She was 61.

The Los Angeles native joined NASA in 1978 as an astronaut candidate and flew her first space shuttle mission in June 1983 as a mission specialist. She flew again in 1984 and was training for a third flight when the Space Shuttle Challenger accident occurred in January 1986. She served on the presidential commission investigating the accident and was later assigned to NASA headquarters, where she produced the “Ride Report” recommending a return to the Moon in preparation for an evential mission to Mars.

Ride left the agency in 1989 to join the University of California, San Diego. She served as president of Space.com from 1999 to 2000 (Space News and Space.com were part of the same company from 2000 to 2009). 

She started her own company, Sally Ride Science, in 2001, to create science programs and publications for elementary and middle schools students and their teachers.

In 2009, Ride served on the Review of United States Human Space Plans Committee, a panel chartered by President Barack Obama and led by former Lockheed Martin Chairman Norm Augustine to review NASA’s plans for building an outpost on the Moon.

In a statement released by the White House, the president called Ride “a national hero and a powerful role model.”

“She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools,” Obama said in the statement. “Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally’s family and friends.”

Ride was survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy; her sister Bear; and her mother Joyce.

Brian Berger is editor in chief of SpaceNews.com and the SpaceNews magazine. He joined SpaceNews.com in 1998, spending his first decade with the publication covering NASA. His reporting on the 2003 Space Shuttle Columbia accident was...