PHOTO: Sally Ride (top) and Kathy Sullivan
eat together on Ride's second spaceflight. (NASA)
Sally Ride, the first US woman to go into space, has died at the age of 61 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Ride broke new ground for American women in 1983, when at the age of 32 she and four crewmates blasted off aboard space shuttle Challenger.
But she had been preceded into space by two female Soviet cosmonauts: Valentina Tereshkova in 1963; and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.
Her death was confirmed by her foundation, Sally Ride Science.
US president Barack Obama called her a "national hero and a powerful role model" who "inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars. 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," he added, in a statement offering condolences to Ride's family and friends.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that Ride "literally changed the face of America's space program" and that "the nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers, and explorers. Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism - and literally changed the face of America's space program," the former astronaut said in a statement. "She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly."