Mary Cleave, the NASA astronaut who in 1989 became the first woman to fly on a space shuttle mission after the Challenger disaster, has died at the age of 76, the space agency announced on Wednesday.
NASA did not give a cause of death.
“I’m sad we’ve lost trail blazer Dr. Mary Cleave, shuttle astronaut, veteran of two spaceflights, and first woman to lead the Science Mission Directorate as associate administrator,” said NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana in a statement. “Mary was a force of nature with a passion for science, exploration, and caring for our home planet. She will be missed.”
Cleave — who died Monday, according to the statement — was a native of Great Neck, New York, and held degrees in microbial ecology and environmental and civil engineering. She was selected for the NASA astronaut corps in 1980.
On her first mission, flying on NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis in 1985, Cleave became the 10th woman ever to travel into space. Cleave’s second flight in 1989, STS-30, also on Atlantis, came after NASA had reverted to flying all-male crews for three missions in the wake of the Challenger explosion in 1986, which killed all seven crew members on board, including the first teacher to be selected to fly to space.
Over the course of her two missions, Cleave spent more than 10 days in orbit.
She moved to work at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC, in 2000, going on to become the first woman to hold the title of associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate — the top role overseeing the space agency’s research programs.
Cleave retired from NASA in 2007, choosing to engage in volunteer work and encourage young women to join scientific pursuits, according to her bio on the Maryland government’s website.