The first American woman to go into space, Sally Ride, died Monday after a 17-month battle against pancreatic cancer, her company said.
Ride made history in 1983 as a crew member on the space shuttle Challenger, breaking the gender barrier for U.S. spaceflight. Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space in 1963, but it took another 20 years for NASA to follow suit.
Word of Ride's death came in an announcement from Sally Ride Science, the educational venture she founded after leaving NASA.
President Barack Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, were "deeply saddened" by the news.
"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model," Obama said in a White House statement. "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars, and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. 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."
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