Space exploration, at least from the United States, was a man's world until 1978. The Soviet Union sent a woman, Valentina Tereshkova into orbit in 1963.
But until NASA accepted female astronaut candidates in 1978, only U.S. men had soared beyond the atmosphere. Then, in 1983, the first American woman went into space aboard the shuttle Challenger. At the time, the 32-year-old also was the youngest astronaut from this country.
Her name was Sally Ride, and she went on to a second shuttle mission in 1984, then to a career with NASA that included investigating the 1986 Challenger tragedy. Later, Ride founded her own company, taught college physics and wrote five science books for children.
Ride died this week at age 61 of cancer.
She was "a national hero and a powerful role model," commented President Barack Obama, adding, "She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars."
Both physically and mentally, traveling into space is beyond the capabilities of the vast majority of human beings. Still, many women could have become astronauts before Ride broke the barrier.
What makes her a role model is her determination to do so - to never give up in a quest that defeats most, both male and female, who undertake it. In that, as well as her later life, Sally Ride indeed was an inspiration for young people.