First US woman in space Sally Ride has died, aged 61

24 Jul 20122 Shares

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Sally Ride floats alongside Challenger's middeck airlock hatch during the 1983 Challenger voyage. Image by NASA

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The physicist and NASA astronaut Sally Ride, who became the first US woman to enter space, has passed away. Ride died in California yesterday, aged 61, after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

NASA has today paid tribute to the astronaut who made history 29 years ago when she became the first American woman to rocket into space.

Two Soviet women, Valentina Tereshkova, in 1963, and Svetlana Savitskaya, in 1982, had preceded Ride’s 1983 space entry.

Having joined NASA in 1978, it was on 18 June 1983 that Ride made space history for the US when she went into space on the Challenger STS-7 mission with four male crewmates.

During that six-day mission, the NASA crew deployed two communications satellites and carried out science experiments, and Ride also became the first woman to use the robotic arm in space. She also became the first woman to use the robotic arm to retrieve a satellite.

In 2008, during an interview recalling that 1983 mission, Ride is cited as having said: "The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it.

"That was made pretty clear the day that I was told I was selected as a crew. I was taken up to (director) 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."

Challenger mission in 1983

Ride, front row, left, with her STS-7 crewmates. In addition to launching America's first female astronaut, NASA said it was also the first mission with a five-member crew. Front row, from left: Ride, Commander Bob Crippen, Pilot Frederick Hauck. Back row, left to right: John Fabian, Norm Thagard 

Image Credit: NASA

1983 Challenger mission. Ride, front row, left, with her STS-7 crewmates. In addition to launching America’s first female astronaut, NASA said the 1983 voyage was also the first mission with a five-member crew. Front row, from left: Ride, Commander Bob Crippen, Pilot Frederick Hauck. Back row, left to right: John Fabian, Norm Thagard. Image by NASA

NASA head Charles Bolden described Ride as having broken barriers with "grace and professionalism". He said she had "literally changed the face" of America’s space programme.

"The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. Our thoughts and prayers are with Sally’s family and the many she inspired. She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly," said Bolden.

After two space missions – Ride’s second space flight aboard Challenger was in 1984 – she was asked by NASA to help with the investigations following the Challenger disaster in 1986, when the shuttle broke apart 73 seconds into its flight, resulting in the deaths of all of its seven crew members.

Inspiring the next generation of astronauts

Ride left NASA in 1987 and went to work at the Stanford University Center for International Security and Arms Control. She then went on to have an illustrious career at the University of California, San Diego. In 1989, she became a professor of physics at the university, as well as becoming director of the California Space Institute.

And, in 2001, she founded the Sally Ride Institute in San Diego, California, the aim of which was to focus on the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects, providing materials for young students in the US.

NASA has commended Ride for having held the distinction of being the only person to serve as a member of both investigation boards following NASA’s two space shuttle accidents.

The space agency also pointed to how Ride served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009.

"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. The success of those woman, with Sally paving the way, made my dream seem one step closer to becoming a reality," said Peggy Whitson, chief of the NASA Astronaut Office, today.

Carmel was a long-time reporter with Siliconrepublic.com

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