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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 27 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 30
Remembering Sally Ride, the first Lesbian in space
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Remembering Sally Ride, the first Lesbian in space

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman to travel into space, died July 23 at the age of 61.

Outside of her family, closest friends, and her doctors, very few knew she had been battling pancreatic cancer for the past 17 months.

Outside of that same small circle, very few knew another fact about Sally Ride: she was a Lesbian.

That fact was revealed only in the last paragraph of the Associated Press obituary announcing Ride's death.

'Ride's office said she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years and a co-founder of Sally Ride Science; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; a niece; and a nephew,' AP said.

Karen 'Bear' Ride told the blog BuzzFeed that her sister 'never hid her relationship with Tam. They have been partners, business partners in Sally Ride Science, they've written books together & Sally's very close friends, of course, knew.'

'Sally didn't use labels,' Bear explained. 'Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy - it was just her nature, because we're Norwegians through and through.'

O'Shaughnessy was always welcome in the close-knit Ride family circle, Bear said. 'We consider Tam a member of the family.'

Ride and O'Shaughnessy first met as 12-year-old tennis players in California. Ride would become a nationally ranked tennis player before her interest in science led her to earn a Ph.D. in physics from Stanford.

In 1978 Ride joined NASA, flying space missions in 1983 and 1984. O'Shaughnessy went on to become a professor of school psychology at San Diego State University.

Although Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley between 1982 and 1987, she and O'Shaughnessy became a couple in 1985 and were together until Ride's death.

O'Shaughnessy is the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science, the foundation the couple organized to encourage young students to pursue scientific careers.

Ride was born on May 26, 1951, in Encino, California. As a girl, her favorite toys were a chemistry set and a telescope.

She earned bachelor's degrees in physics and English from Stanford University in 1973, a master's in 1975, and her doctorate in 1978. That same year, she joined NASA after responding to an ad in the student newspaper calling for scientists and engineers to apply to become astronauts.

After retiring from NASA in 1987, she went to Stanford's Center for International Security and Arms Control. In 1989, Ride became professor of physics at UC San Diego and director of the California Space Institute. With O'Shaughnessy, she founded Sally Ride Science in 2001.

One of Ride's last projects was enabling middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA's twin GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) spacecraft.

'Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that's such a powerful thing. It's extraordinarily admirable,' MIT professor Maria Zuber, who heads the GRAIL mission, told AP.

'While she never enjoyed being a celebrity, she recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential,' said Ride's former husband, Steve Hawley, in a statement released by NASA.

'The fact that Sally Ride was a Lesbian will further help round out Americans' understanding of the contributions of LGBT Americans to our country. Our love and condolences go out to her partner,' HRC president Chad Griffin said in a statement to BuzzFeed.

Bear Ride, who is a Presbyterian minister and also identifies as a Lesbian, hopes her sister's story would be helpful to LGBT youth.

'People did not know she had pancreatic cancer - that's going to be a huge shock,' she noted. 'For 17 months, nobody knew - and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer.

Pancreatic cancer sufferers, Bear said, are '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.

'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.

BuzzFeed asked Bear to comment on religious conservatives who oppose legal recognition of same-sex relationships like her sister's.

'Who cares about them, really?' she replied. 'There are those who are stubbornly ignorant, and if they want to continue in that, God bless them, but probably best not to talk to my family.'

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