Sally K. Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.
Ride shattered the gender barrier 29 years ago when she rode to orbit aboard space shuttle Challenger and became America's first woman in space.
"The selection of the 1978 Astronaut Class that included Sally and several other women, had a huge impact on my dream to become an astronaut," said Peggy Whitson, Chief of the NASA Astronaut Office.
"The success of those woman, with Sally paving the way, made my dream seem one step closer to becoming a reality."
As noted above, Ride's place in history was assured on June 18, 1983, when she rocketed into space on Challenger's STS-7 mission with four male crewmates.
"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Ride recalled in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. "That was made pretty clear the day that I was told I was selected as a crew. I was taken up to Chris Kraft's office. He wanted to have a chat with me and make sure I knew what I was getting into before I went on the crew. I was so dazzled to be on the crew and go into space I remembered very little of what he said."
"On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad. I didn't really think about it that much at the time... but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space."
Ride joined NASA as part of the 1978 astronaut class, the first to include women. She and five other women, along with 29 men, were selected out of 8,000 applicants. Ride left NASA in August 1987 to join the faculty at the University of California, San Diego, as a professor of physics and director of the University of California's California Space Institute. In 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, to pursue her long-time passion of motivating girls and young women to pursue careers in science, math and technology.
Ride received numerous honors and awards during the course of her career. Most notably, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award.
In addition to Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.