The Tragic Death Of Sally Ride

Sally Ride ranks among the most famous women in American history. In 1983, launched aboard the Space Shuttle Challenger, Ride became the first American woman in space, according to NASA. (This trip made Ride the third woman in space overall, behind the Soviet Union's Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, per Space.com). But Sally Ride broke through several other glass ceilings on her way into space; Ride was (and remains) the youngest American to enter space at age 32 (per the JFK Space Center), as well as the first gay astronaut, per NBC.

But, obviously, Sally Ride faced a difficult road before she could become America's first female astronaut. In 1978, Ride completed her Ph.D. in physics at Stanford University, where she focused on astrophysics, Forbes reports. While at Stanford, Ride saw a newspaper ad looking for astronaut candidates, and decided to apply. She was selected in 1978 — one of only 35 to be chosen out of over 8,000 applicants, per NASA. After extensive training (and intense media scrutiny due to her gender), Ride took her historic flight into space on June 18, 1983. Ride would participate in a second space flight in 1984; her third was scheduled for 1986, but was canceled as a result of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster that year.

Shortly after the death of her colleagues aboard the Challenger, Ride chose to leave NASA. She would go on to work as a professor of physics at the UC San Diego, that university reports.

Sally Ride succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2012

From the 1990s until her death, Ride would continue to serve NASA as a science communicator, informing the public about the agency's missions. Likewise, Ride wrote a number of popular science books. In 2001, she co-founded Sally Ride Science, a nonprofit to promote STEM literacy among young people (especially young girls and minorities), per UC San Diego. Additionally, Ride served on the committees which investigated both the Challenger and Columbia disasters; she was the only person to serve on both, per The New York Times.

Despite the dangers associated with spaceflight, Sally Ride would ultimately lose her life to pancreatic cancer in 2012. Ride preferred to keep her private life private, so not much is known about her bout with the illness. In fact, Buzzfeed reports that Ride kept her diagnosis a secret from everyone but those closest to her. Per NBC, Ride battled pancreatic cancer for 17 months, ultimately succumbing to the illness on July 23, 2012. She died at her home in San Diego; she was 61. Ride's ashes were interred next to her father in Santa Monica's Woodland Cemetery, the Santa Monica Lookout reports. Additionally, per NBC, Ride waited until her death to publicly come out as gay; Ride's obituary reports that she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, "her partner of 27 years."

Following Ride's death, CNN reports, President Barack Obama hailed her as a "national hero and powerful role model." He stated that "Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve."