Astronaut Sally Ride is well-known as the first American woman to travel to space. Lesser known is that Ride was also the first LGBT astronaut.
Born in Los Angeles, Ride graduated from Stanford with a bachelor’s degree in English and then went on to pursue a Ph.D. in physics, specifically focused on astrophysics and free electron lasers.
She was chosen to join NASA in 1978. She was the capsule communicator for America’s second and third shuttle flights and assisted in developing the robot arm.
In the 80s, a female astronaut was a big deal. Ride was asked questions like, “Will the flight affect your reproductive organs?” and “Do you cry when things go wrong on the job?”
When Ride was 32, the youngest astronaut to travel to space to date, the Challenger took to the sky, lasting about 14 days in space.
She was the first woman to use the robot arm and to retrieve a satellite with it.
She went on a second flight in 1984, also on the Challenger. Ride led NASA’s first strategic planning effort and wrote a report entitled, “NASA Leadership and America’s Future in Space.”
She founded NASA’s Office of Exploration and spearheaded two public-outreach programs for NASA: ISS EarthKam and GRAIL MoonKAM.
These programs allowed middle school students to access satellite images of the Earth and moon, encouraging interest in the field of science.
She also founded Sally Ride Science in 2001, an organization that creates science programs and publications for elementary and middle school kids, particularly geared towards young girls.
Sally Ride was a deeply private person, working hard to keep her personal life out of the spotlight.
It wasn’t until after her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012 that the existence of her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, was made public.
Ride and O’Shaughnessy were childhood friends who bonded over their mutual love of tennis at age 12.
“It’s scary to be open because you don’t realize the impact that it might have on so many aspects of your life,” says O’Shaughnessy on why their relationship was kept private. “You worry about grants, about whether you’ll be able to continue writing children’s textbooks.”
It was the decision of both women to include the relationship in Ride’s obituary. “I wanted to ensure Sally’s legacy reflected the integrity in which she lived her life,” says O’Shaughnessy.
Caroline Fritz is a third-year student majoring in English with a minor in linguistics. She can be reached at CF853302@wcupa.edu.