Sally Ride, who died of pancreatic cancer Monday at the age of 61, was the first American woman to fly into space. But she was far from the last. In the years since Ride blasted off aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, 44 more American women flown in space. Two-hundred-ninety American men have made the journey.
Ride wasn't always comfortable in the spotlight. In a 2003 interview reported by the Associated Press, she called her selection as an astronaut a "huge honor," but added that, "On the other hand, it sure did complicate things. I'm the sort of person who likes to be able to just walk into the supermarket and not be recognized."
But Ride recognized how she might use her celebrity to encourage more girls and women to pursue careers, not only in space programs but also in other scientific and technical fields. She started her own company, Sally Ride Science, to do just that.
And it seems she succeeded.
Calling Ride a "national hero and a role model," President Obama said in a statement that she "inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars," AP reported.
Pamela Melroy, who flew into space in 2000, 2002, and 2007, told Space.com in an email: "I knew I wanted to be an astronaut from watching the Apollo astronauts land on the moon, but Sally cemented the belief inside me that I could do it. She paved the way for women to work in space and made it so much easier for other women to follow where she led."
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said Ride "broke barriers with grace and professionalism--and literally changed the face of America's space program."
Click below to see a gallery of all 56 women astronauts (including the two female cosmonauts who beat Ride into space):
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