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Female space shuttle commanders remember Sally Ride (+video)

Two women who became space shuttle commanders after seeing Sally Ride's historic flight in 1983, reflect on the legacy of the first American woman in space.

By Clara MoskowitzSpace.com / July 24, 2012

This undated file photo astronaut Sally Ride. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012. Ride flew twice in space, both times aboard the Challenger shuttle.

(AP Photo/NASA, File)

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The news of Sally Ride's death yesterday (July 23) has impacted many around the globe, most especially those who traveled directly in her footsteps.

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Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut in space, died at the age of 61 of cancer in her home in California. Seth Doane takes a look back at her remarkable life and legacy.

Sally Ride became the first American woman in space when she flew on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. Since then, dozens of U.S. females have made spaceflights. Two of them, Eileen Collins and Pamela Melroy, achieved another historic milestone, becoming the only women to command a space shuttle mission.

"I knew I wanted to be an astronaut from watching the Apollo astronauts land on the moon, but Sally cemented the belief inside me that I could do it," Melroy wrote in an email to SPACE.com. "She paved the way for women to work in space and made it so much easier for other women to follow where she led."

Collins became the first female space shuttle commander when she led the STS-93 flight of the shuttle Columbia in July 1999, just 16 years after Ride's first flight. Melroy then commanded the space shuttle Discovery in 2007, becoming the last woman to command a shuttle before the fleet retired in 2011. [Sally Ride: 1st American Woman in Space (Pictures)]

"I am surprised and saddened by the news of Sally Ride’s passing," Collins wrote in an email yesterday. "She was such a wonderful role model and source of inspiration to me.  People around the world still recognize her name as the first American woman in space, and she took that title seriously even after departing NASA.  She mentored me several times during my astronaut career, leaving me with many cherished memories."

Collins, who retired from NASA in 2006, said Ride inspired by example.

"She never sought media attention for herself, but rather focused on doing her normally outstanding job," Collins said. "Her 'Sally Ride Science' programs have reached thousands of middle school girls, giving them the confidence to stay focused on math and science, even when the mass media message was otherwise. She also played a notable role in both the Challenger and Columbia accident investigations.  Sally left us too soon. God Speed Sally, you will be greatly missed."

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