Zooming off into the black is the biggest dream for anyone who stared up at the stars, dreaming of leaving terra firma for the great unknown. And when Sally Ride did it in 1983 on board the space shuttle Challenger, she had gone where no other American female had gone before.

As the first woman to ever go on a U.S. space mission — actually two, the second taking place in 1984 — she inspired a generation of young girls to dream big and go far with their geeky aspirations. So in honor of this legendary astronaut passing away yesterday at age 61, we give you a few facts about the trailblazing, space-traversing American hero.

  • Sally was once an aspiring tennis player. As a youngster, she ranked in the Top 20 junior tennis stars in the country.
  • She entered the space program after answering a newspaper ad. Not that NASA was accepting just anyone — she held a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford.
  • Her 1983 mission represented a lot of firsts: Sally wasn't just the first American woman in space, but she was also the first lesbian and the youngest astronaut (at age 32) to enter space.
  • After she retired from NASA in 1987, she continued her career as a theoretical physicist and founded Sally Ride Science to encourage kids toward science, technology, engineering and math.
  • Sally was named to the National Women's Hall of Fame, as well as the Astronaut Hall of Fame, and recently she was honored with the National Space Grant Distinguished Service Award, conferred on her by President Obama.
  • She flew her own plane to her 1982 Kansas wedding to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley. The marriage ended in divorce, and she lived out her life with partner Dr. Tam E. O'Shaughnessy for 27 years until her death.
  • Sally was also a Trekkie.
  • She was a master at New York Times crossword puzzles. While it may seem random and frivolous, it actually made sense to her, given her profession: "Science is fun . . . Science is curiosity. We all have natural curiosity. Science is a process of investigating. It's posing questions and coming up with a method. It's delving in. It's a lot more important than memorizing things like fila. Memorizing fila is not science. Science is solving puzzles."

[via Geek Sugar]