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Female space shuttle commanders remember Sally Ride (+video)

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"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."

Collins and Melroy are not the only women to have commanded space missions. NASA's current chief astronaut is veteran spaceflyer Peggy Whitson, who commanded the International Space Station's Expedition 16 mission in 2007 and 2008. The space station's second female commander, Sunita Williams, is on the orbiting laboratory now and will take command later this year.

Ride, a physicist, took her status as role model seriously, and harnessed it to reach out to students through Sally Ride Science, the company she founded in 2001. The organization worked to inspire boys and girls in the subjects of science, math and technology through outreach in classrooms and teacher training.

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