Sally Ride: The first lesbian astronaut in space
This is because when Sally died at the age of 61 of pancreatic cancer, her obituary revealed that she was also a lesbian– which surprised a lot of people.
Sally Ride: A driven perfectionist
Born in Encino, California, she grew up in a family of four. Her parents, Dale and Carol, gave her the love of science.
She attended Westlake High School for Girls in LA on a partial tennis scholarship and graduated in 1968. After a brief attempt at professional tennis, she decided to attend Stanford University.
“Sally simply couldn’t make the ball go just where she wanted it to. And Sally wouldn’t settle or anything short of excellence in herself,” Carol said on Sally’s decision to quit tennis.
At Stanford, she got a bachelor of science degree in physics and a bachelor of arts degree in English in 1973. She got her masters of science degree in 1975 and a doctorate in physics in 1978.
Sally Ride: To space and beyond
When Sally saw an ad to apply as astronaut at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), she bested 8,000 other applicants to become one of the first six female astronauts.
She became the first American woman to fly into space on the Challenger in 1983. She made another shuttle flight in 1984, and was supposed to fly a third when the Challenger blew up in 1986.
She left NASA in 1987 and became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego. In 2009, she was part of the Augustine committee that helped define the spaceflight goals for NASA.
In 2001, she helped found the Sally Ride Science, a science outreach company that taught and encouraged students– especially girls– to go into the field of science.
“Everywhere I go I meet girls and boys who want to be astronauts and explore space, or they love the ocean and want to be oceanographers, or they love animals and want to be zoologists, or they love designing things and want to be engineers,” Sally said.
Sally Ride: A “secret” lesbian
Sally got married to a fellow astronaut, Steven Hawley, in 1982 but their marriage lasted only until 1987.
When Sally died in 2012 after a 17-month battle with cancer, her obituary revealed that she had been together with Tam O’Shaughnessy for 27 years.
The two had first met as young girls and remained friends throughout their lives. However, this friendship blossomed into romance in 1985.
Though this revelation surprised a lot of people, this wasn’t news to those close to Sally. Her sister, Bear (also a lesbian), described her as a “tight-lipped” guarded person.
Writing for Slate, Lynn Sherr– who wrote a biography on Sally– said this need for secrecy was inescapable at NASA: “In that conservative macho culture, women were summarily excluded and same-sex relationships were as welcome as an invasion of Klingons.”
Afterward, Sally didn’t want to be boxed in by people’s expectations. Tam said: “Sally didn’t want to be defined by the lesbian/gay label just as she didn’t want to be defined by a gender label.”
“We both didn’t like categories, didn’t want to define ourselves by our sexuality,” she added.
For more about Sally Ride, the first American lesbian astronaut in space, check out the video below: