(SAN DIEGO) -- Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday at the age of 61, ABC News has confirmed.
The former NASA astronaut waged a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer before passing "peacefully" on Monday, according to a statement released by Sally Ride Science.
"Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, commitment and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless," the statement said.
In 1983 and again in 1984, Ride flew as a mission specialist on the space shuttle Challenger, conducting experiments, operating the shuttle's robot arm -- and breaking through a very high-altitude glass ceiling.
Describing the historic June 18, 1983, launch of Challenger’s STS-7 mission from the Kennedy Space Center, ABC News Radio correspondent Vic Ratner proclaimed at the time, “Space is no longer an all male enterprise; the five astronauts on board today include the first American woman to fly in space, Sally Ride.”
President Obama on Monday said he and first lady Michelle Obama "were deeply saddened" to hear of Ride's passing, hailing her a “national hero and a powerful role model.”
“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," the president said in a statement released by the White House on Monday. "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. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally’s family and friends.”
"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America’s space program," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said Monday. "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers. 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."
Born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, Ride studied physics at Stanford University, earning a Ph.D. in 1978. By then she had already been selected as one of NASA's first six woman astronaut candidates. The agency was gearing up for its new shuttle program, and said it wanted to expand its astronaut corps, which in its early years had been mostly limited to test pilots.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio