Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away at the age of 61, leaving behind her longtime female partner.
Ride was battling pancreatic cancer and died peacefully on Monday. Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Ride obtained degrees in physics and English before signing up to become a NASA astronaut in 1977; it was the first time women were allowed in space. Ride apparently wasn’t out at that time — it's unlikely an openly gay person would be allowed to become an astronaut at the time, as the government believed gays represented security risks thanks to potential blackmail situations. She was actually married to a fellow astronaut, Steven Hawley, during part of her time with NASA.
Ride was chosen to be an astronaut in 1978 and jetted out of Earth's orbit in 1983 as the first American woman to go into space. Ride was part of the Challenger mission and would attend another Challenger voyage in 1984. A third trip was halted after the deadly 1986 Challenger explosion killed several astronauts and teacher Christa McAuliffe. Ride retired from NASA in 1987, eventually becoming a professor in California.
A hero to millions of girls and women, Ride leaves behind her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, as well as 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, according to Ride's website.
"The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers, and explorers," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told USA Today.