AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally, this hour, we remember Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. She died today at age 61 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. On June 18, 1983, Sally Ride made history, blasting into space on the Challenger shuttle.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...eight, seven, six - we go for main engine start. We have main engine start and the ignition and lift off. Lift off of STS-7 and America's first woman astronaut. And the shuttle has pulled the power.

CORNISH: Captain Bob Crippen was her crew commander on that flight. Bob Crippen, welcome to the program.

CAPTAIN BOB CRIPPEN: Thank you.

CORNISH: First, I want to offer my condolences. And if you could tell us a little bit about Sally Ride. I know she was a member of the first class of astronauts to accept women in 1978. Did she talk to you about what that was like?

CRIPPEN: Well, we had six women that were selected in 1978 to join the astronaut office, and Sally was one of the best on that group, although they were all great. I had a chance to work with her for several years, until I have a chance to command a flight and I thought she'd be the perfect person to go fly with me.

CORNISH: Did you ever get the sense that she felt like she was breaking barriers?

CRIPPEN: Sally was not the kind of person that, I guess, would seem to go breaking barriers, but she obviously did. She broke through a lot of glass ceilings with that first shuttle flight and proved that young women could do anything they wanted to. And I was very proud of her. After she left NASA, she continued to go out and inspire young women to get - become interested in science and engineering, and that's something they tend to shy away from. But she was certainly a role model that - I believe she inspired a lot of young women.

CORNISH: And, of course, Sally Ride, by the time she went into space, she'd already earned a Ph.D. in physics. Tell us a little bit more about her personality.

CRIPPEN: Well, she was very personal, easy to get along with, fun to be with, and she fits right in with the crew. And she'd work like anybody would and molded well with the crew, which was important to me, that's one of the reasons I've selected her. Because when you go fly in space with a small group, it's important that everybody can work well together, and Sally certainly fit that model.

CORNISH: I've heard that. Obviously, astronauts spend a lot of time together. And I've also heard that sort of different personalities between astronauts who may be are rooted in being pilots versus those rooted in the sciences. What were some of the, I guess, personality traits that made her a good partner up in space?

CRIPPEN: Well, she could work with the team. That was the main thing. She didn't try to stand out; she tried to blend in. And that was what was important to me.

CORNISH: Bob Crippen, thank you so much for speaking with us.

CRIPPEN: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

CORNISH: That's Captain Bob Crippen. He spoke to us about Sally Ride. The astronaut died today at age 61.

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