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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Posthumously Out: First American Woman in Space

Astronaut Sally Ride died yesterday at age 61 of pancreatic cancer, after a remarkable career that included being the first American woman to go into space, during two trips aboard space shuttle Challenger in 1983 and 1984. Her obituary, posted yesterday, marks the first time public acknowlegement of Ride as a lesbian has ever been made:
Sally Ride died peacefully on July 23rd, 2012 after a courageous 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

Sally was a physicist, the first American woman to fly in space, a science writer, and the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science. She had the rare ability to understand the essence of things and to inspire those around her to join her pursuits.

Sally’s historic flight into space captured the nation’s imagination and made her a household name. She became a symbol of the ability of women to break barriers and a hero to generations of adventurous young girls. After retiring from NASA, Sally used her high profile to champion a cause she believed in passionately—inspiring young people, especially girls, to stick with their interest in science, to become scientifically literate, and to consider pursuing careers in science and engineering.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed got confirmation from Sally's sister:
"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.

Terry McEntee, a spokeswoman from Sally Ride Science, the company Ride formed to provide educational materials and programs for schools, confirmed to BuzzFeed that there had not, to her knowledge, previously been published acknowledgment of Ride and O'Shaugnessy's relationship.

Bear Ride, though, said 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."

O'Shaugnessy is the chief operating officer and executive vice president for Sally Ride Science, as well as an emeritus professor at San Diego State University. Sally Ride had previously been married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley in 1982; they divorced in 1987. Ride went into space on two missions, first in 1983 and then again in 1984.

Of Sally Ride's sexual orientation, Bear Ride said, "Sally didn't use labels. Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy, it was just her nature, because we're Norwegians, through and through."

I don't know what being Norwegian has to do with anything, but I can't help thinking how vastly more encouraging it would have been to thousands of young lesbians and gays to have a living example to look up to. A couple of years ago, when I think every gay man and woman in the country wanted to contribute a video to the It Gets Better Project when it got started, would have been such a wonderful time to have come out - truly an inspiring moment. Don't you think, fellas?

Still, as I've blogged here in the Blue Truck before, coming out is a process of many stages and levels, a movement of the soul, very personal and not something to be dictated by anyone else. So I have to respect that choice of Sally's, and anyone else's - as long as they aren't working against us.

Rest in peace, Ms. Ride, and condolences to your partner and family.

Update:  More from Sally's sister on "Why Sally Ride waited until her death to tell the world she was gay."

And an excerpt from a powerful piece by Michael Signorile in Huff Po, via David Mixner:
While the news of her death at the age of 61 after a 17-month battle with cancer is immensely sad, and while it would have been terrific if she came out while alive, Ride's posthumous coming out is a wonderful gift to America's youth. And it's what we needed right now. If astronauts are among the ultimate heroes and examples of American ingenuity, fortitude and bravery, then with that one line in her obituary -- survived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years" -- Sally Ride dispelled all the ugliness foisted on this country in recent weeks by the Boy Scouts of America, Chick-Fil-A and Jennifer Carroll, Florida's GOP lieutenant governor, who, denying charges that she had sex with another woman in her office, claimed women who look like her are not involved in same-sex relationships (and refuses to apologize).

Yes, Lt. Governor Carroll, you are right. With your bigotry and cowardice, you are not what a lesbian looks like.

This is what a lesbian looks like: Sally Ride: physicist; author of seven science books for children; member of the space shuttle Challenger crew; member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology; director of the California Science Institute; inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame; recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, the NCAA's Theodore Roosevelt Award, and the NASA Space Flight Medal (twice).


Tim said...

Rest in peace indeed, they neglet to say she also served on the Challenger Disaster enquiry, which did so much to make space flight safer. The point about being Norwegain through and through relates to their concept of 'Egalitarian Individualism', where the equality and integrity of the individual are highly valued. Simply put it means they remain very private individuals, even within a partnership.

Theaterdog said...

I had mixed emotions of pride and well, something else..such a great woman, a one of a kind, to have stood up and been counted before her death. We must respect everyone's personal choice, famous or not, but to have known as a young man...would have been rather nice.
Now how about any of the men from outer space?

Russ Manley said...

Yup, it would have been rather nice . . . as you say. But at least future generations will know now.

Yeah I'd love to see a gay male astronaut too. But imagine all the godawful jokes that would be going around.

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