UNDATED (CBS) -- The head of NASA says "The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers". He was referring to Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, who died of cancer Monday at her home in California.
In June 1983, when the space shuttle "Challenger" rocketed into space, it launched astronaut Sally Ride into the history books. She said, looking back, "I was worried about making a mistake... I wanted to be very sure that I could meet expectations."
She did and landed at Edwards Air Force Base an American hero. She said at the time, "The thing that I will remember most about that flight is that it was fun and I am sure it is the most fun that I will ever have in my life."
As the first American woman to fly to outer space, Ride became a household name and chipped another crack in that glass ceiling. President Ronald Reagan said, "Somebody said sometimes the best man for the job is a woman. You were there because you were the best person for the job."
Ride went on to use her notoriety, and her love of science, to inspire others, especially young girls. Through her organization "Sally Ride Science" she encouraged the next generation to enter math and science fields.
She made a cameo on the hit children's educational program, "Sesame Street" even twenty five years later; she seemed to marvel at her journey to space. She says, "The moment of ignition there is absolutely nothing like it there is so much power so much thunder you know that something that you have no control over at all is happening for the next 8 1/2 minutes."
Her passing prompted an outpouring of sympathy and praise. From President Obama who wrote, "Sally's life showed us there are no limits to what we can achieve," to women's rights advocate, Maria Shriver, who tweeted: (@mariashriver:) "Every time a woman dreams of conquering the next frontier, she will stand on Sally Ride's shoulders."
NASA called her a "trailblazer". She paved the way for the 42 other American women NASA would put into space.
Two of those women were tragically killed on-board when the shuttle "Challenger" exploded in 1986 and ride was later appointed to the commission that studied the disaster.
Her larger-than life career had humble beginnings. She said, "I had been planning to go into research in physics, and had been continuing with those plans until the day I saw the announcement in the newspaper that NASA was selecting astronauts."
She answered that simple newspaper announcement and wound-up making headlines.