Sally Ride, the first American woman sent into space, died Monday at her home in La Jolla, Calif.
Ride, 61, died of pancreatic cancer.
She wasn't the same as astronauts chosen for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs. They were primarily fighter pilots. She was a physicist. And there was the obvious — she was female. Ride was also the youngest American to go into space when she orbited the Earth aboard the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.
In 1969, when the Apollo program took the first man to the moon, it would have been unthinkable for a woman to be an astronaut. That changed in the next 10 years. It was also unusual in those days for a woman to major in science. In the 1960s, women were told not to major in fields such as physics, chemistry and engineering. They were told that they wouldn't be hired. Ride was a pioneer in that field as well. She had a Ph.D. from Stanford in physics.
Ride wasn't the first female in space — she was preceded by two Russian female cosmonauts, Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.
Although she maintained from the beginning that she had not intended to "become a historic figure or a symbol of progress for women" she inspired generations of girls to major in mathematics and science. After she retired from that career she helped found the Challenger Center for Space Science Education and launched Sally Ride Science, an educational company. She also co-wrote several books for children.
Although Sally Ride didn't intend to be a pioneer and a role model, she was one. People who knew her said she "was always challenging herself and challenging you."