HOUSTON -

Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California in San DiegoThe first American woman to fly in space has died.

Sally Ride passed away Monday after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61.

Ride's was one of five women selected to the astronaut class of 1978. On June 18, 1983, she launched into space aboard Space Shuttle Challenger.

"The fact that I was going to be the first American woman to go into space carried huge expectations along with it," Ride recalled in an interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. "That was made pretty clear the day that I was told I was selected as a crew. I was taken up to Chris Kraft’s office. He wanted to have a chat with me and make sure I knew what I was getting into before I went on the crew. I was so dazzled to be on the crew and go into space I remembered very little of what he said."

Ride also flew on Challenger in 1984 and logged a total of 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986.

NASA administrators reflected on Ride's contribution to the space program.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism – and literally changed the face of America's space program," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "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."

"Sally was a personal and professional role model to me and thousands of women around the world," said NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver. "Her spirit and determination will continue to be an inspiration for women everywhere."

Ride was the only person to serve as a member of both investigation boards following NASA's two space shuttle accidents. She also served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee, also known as the Augustine Committee, in 2009, which informed many of the decisions about NASA's current human spaceflight programs.

"Michelle and I were deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Sally Ride," President Barack Obama said. "As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was 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. 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." 

Ride was born and raised in Los Angeles. Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.

Ride's office said she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.