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UPDATED: Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, dies at age 61

SAN DIEGO -- Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly in space, died today after a battle with pancreatic cancer, according to Sally Ride Science. She was 61.

Sally Ride Science, in its obituary released to the public, disclosed that the astronaut had a longtime relationship with Tam O'Shaugnessy, the company's COO and executive vice president. Ride was 12 years old when the girls became friends.

The company obituary simply noted that Ride was survived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years," her mother, Joyce Ride; her sister Bear Ride; and a niece and a nephew.

Bear Ride told Buzz Feed:

"We consider Tam a member of the family."

Saying that her sister was a very private person, Bear Ride said, "People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that's going to be a huge shock. For 17 months, nobody knew -- and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," Bear Ride, who identifies as gay, said.

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," she added.

Ride married astronaut Steven Hawley in 1982, and they divorced in 1987.

Bear Ride told Buzz Feed that her sister never hid her relationship with O'Shaugnessy, but always cherished her privacy. She said Ride's inner circle knew about their relationship.

Sally Ride became a heroine to millions of girls and women when on June 18, 1983 she made history as the first American woman to ride in a space shuttle, the Challenger. Two Soviet women -- Valentina Tereshkova in 1963 and Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982 -- paved the way for women to serve their countries on space missions.

On the Challenger, Ride and the other four crew members deployed two communications satellites and conducted pharmaceutical experiments. Ride also established another historical milestone, becoming the first woman in history to use the robotic arm in space and the first to use that instrument to retrieve an old satellite.

Ride returned to space in 1984, also on the Challenger.

After the Challenger exploded after liftoff over Florida on Jan. 28, 1986, Ride was part of the Presidential Commission that investigated the tragic accident.

In 1987, Ride left NASA for various academic positions. In 1989, she became a professor of physics at UC San Diego and director of the California Space Institute.

In 2009, Ride also founded Sally Ride Science, a company that works with middle school and high school students, particularly girls, who are interested in careers in science and space.

A native of California, Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Encino near Los Angeles. She was a resident of the San Diego neighborhood of La Jolla at the time of her death.