Ride was one of the first female astronauts admitted to NASA in 1978. She responded to an ad from the space agency while working on her doctorate at Stanford University.
In June of 1983, at the age of 32, she became the first American woman to fly in space as a crew member aboard the space shuttle Challenger. It was the second Challenger flight, and the first five-person crew. Ride made a second space flight in 1984, also on board the Challenger.
She was slated to go on a third mission that was canceled after the Challenger disaster in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards.
She also was on the president's committee of science advisers.
Ride left NASA in 1989 to become a physics professor at the University of California, San Diego. And in 2001, she founded her own company, Sally Ride Science, aimed at encouraging young people, especially girls, to pursue careers in science, math and technology.
Ride was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame, National Women's Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and she received the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, and the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award. She was twice awarded the NASA Space Flight Medal. In 2012, Ride was honored with the National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award.
"As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model," President Barack Obama said in a statement. "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. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Sally's family and friends."
After Ride's first flight, more than 42 other American women flew in space, according to NASA.
"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."
A native of Los Angeles, Ride graduated from high school there in 1968 and enrolled at Stanford University. At Stanford, she earned four degrees, including a doctorate in physics in 1978. She also was an accomplished athlete who played varsity tennis at Stanford after being nationally ranked as a youth.
Ride is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece and a nephew.