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Sally Ride and friend in 1984 after her first mission into space. DAVE PICKOFF/AP/Press Association Images

First US woman astronaut in space dies aged 61

Sally Ride was the only person to serve on the investigations into both the Challenger and Columbia disasters.

AMERICA’S FIRST woman astronaut in space, Sally Ride, has died aged 61 at her San Diego home from pancreatic cancer.

The first woman to fly into space was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in 1963. Twenty years later, Ride entered space on board the Challenger shuttle at the aged of 32.

In a statement following news of her death yesterday, US President Barack Obama hailed Ride as “a national hero and powerful role model.”

“She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars,” he said.

NASA administrator Charles Bolden said Ride had broken barriers “with grace and professionalism” and had “literally changed the face of America’s space programme”.

“The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers,” Bolden said. “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.”

Ride orbited the Earth on two trips aboard Challenger and NASA said she continued to contribute to America’s space programme right up until her death.

She is the only person to have served on both of the investigation boards set up to investigate NASA’s two shuttle accidents – when the Challenger broke apart shortly after launching in January 1986 and when Columbia broke up upon re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere in February 2003.

Ride also worked as a physics professor at the University of California in San Diego, and was the director of the university’s California Space Institute.

This report shows Ride at work on NASA shuttle missions:

(YouTube credit: shuttlemania)

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