Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to travel into space, died in San Diego today after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, according to her organization, Sally Ride Science. She was 61.

Ride, a physicist, lifted off aboard the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983.

“Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name,” Sally Ride Science said in a statement.

“Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America’s space program,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “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.”

After two trips to orbit aboard the shuttle, Ride went on to an academic career at the University of California, San Diego. She also held the distinction of being the only person to serve as a member of both investigation boards following NASA’s two space shuttle accidents, according to the agency.

Ride also served as a member of the Review of U.S. Human Spaceflight Plans Committee in 2009 that informed many of the decisions about NASA’s current human spaceflight programs.

Ride joined NASA as part of the 1978 astronaut class, the first to include women. She trained for five years before she and three of her classmates were assigned to STS-7. The six-day mission deployed two communications satellites and performed a number of science experiments.

- with Reuters