Sally Ride, the first US woman to travel into space, has died after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her foundation.

Ride, 61, broke new ground for American women in 1983 when at the age of 32 she and four crewmates blasted off aboard space shuttle Challenger.

"She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly"

- Charles Bolden, NASA administrator

She returned to space for a second mission a year later.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism - and literally changed the face of America's space programme," NASA administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said in a statement on Monday.

"She will be missed, but her star will always shine brightly," Bolden said.

Ride grew up in Los Angeles and attended Stanford University, where she earned degrees in physics and English.

She joined NASA's astronaut corps in 1978.

Ride - at the age of 32 - was also the youngest person in
America at the time to go into orbit [AFP]

She was assigned to a third shuttle flight, but training for the mission was cut off after the fatal 1986 Challenger accident that claimed the lives of six colleagues and a schoolteacher.

Ride served as a member of the presidential commission that investigated the accident, then assisted the agency as an administrator with long-range and strategic planning.

She left NASA in 1989 and joined Stanford as a professor.

Ride's interest in education extended to younger students, particularly women whom she targeted with her science education start-up Sally Ride Science in San Diego.

The company creates science programmes and publications for elementary and middle school students and educators.

Ride also authored five science books for children and served on dozens of NASA, space and technology advisory panels, including the board that investigated the second fatal space shuttle accident in 2003.

Ride, who was also a science writer, is survived by her mother, her partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, a sister, a niece and a nephew.

Ride was not the first woman in space - that was Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova in June 1963.

Source: Agencies