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This Day in History: Sally Ride becomes first American woman in space

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On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. (NASA)

Sunday marks 34 years since Sally Ride took one giant leap for women everywhere. Ride became the first American woman in space on June 18, 1983.

Valentina Tereshkov of the Soviet Union had become the first woman in space well before NASA accepted its first class including women in 1978. Ride, who was just graduating from Stanford University with a Ph.D. in physics, saw an ad in the newspaper and decided to apply. She would become one of the six women they accepted and the first to go to space.

As a mission specialist with the STS-7 mission aboard the Challenger, Ride's tasks included satellite communication and conducting experiments. She flew a second mission in 1984 and was assigned a third, but did not go on that mission because of the Challenger explosion. Instead she transitioned to administrative roles at NASA, including serving on the panel investigating the explosion. After her career at NASA, she returned to academia.

Ride became a symbol of female empowerment and earned numerous honors. She passed away in 2012, and a year later she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom on her behalf.

When she passed away, then-President Barack Obama released a statement in tribute.

"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," he said. "Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve."

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