Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away on Monday, July 23, 2012. Ride’s death at 61 brings with it multiple surprises. She died from complications related to a 17-month battle against pancreatic cancer, which few knew she had. Even more surprising to many was the fact that Sally Ride was gay.
Ride made history in the summer of 1983 when she joined the crew of the Challenger for a six-day mission in space. The trip was the seventh US space shuttle mission, and the first mission to have a woman as a member of the crew. The 32-year-old Ride was also the youngest astronaut at that point.
The historic trip was an inspiring moment for many women in America. Her death has sparked many articles on blogs and tributes on regular news sites.
“Sally Ride is an icon to me and to all American women to dream,” wrote Cynthia Falar in an iReport article on CNN. She was a pioneer to encourage small town girls to think big. Most of all she got me to wonder how I fit into the world and what I had to contribute.”
Ride sexuality was revealed in an obituary from Sally Ride Science, an educational venture she began a decade ago. The obituary names Tam O’Shaughnessy as Ride’s partner for 27 years. The length of their relationship indicates that they were together for at least part of the time that Ride was in NASA. O’Shaughnessy and Ride drafted the obituary before Ride passed away.
According to Ride’s sister, Bear Ride, the astronaut was a very private individual.
“My sister was a very private person. Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy, it was just her nature, because we’re Norwegians, through and through. People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, this is bound to be a huge shock,” said Bear in an essay tribute to Sally.
“Most people did not know that Sally had a wonderfully loving relationship with Tam O’Shaughnessy for 27 years. Sally never hid her relationship with Tam. They were partners, business partners in Sally Ride Science, they wrote books together, and Sally’s very close friends, of course, knew of their love for each other. We consider Tam a member of our family.”
“Could she have helped the cause? Maybe,” says Fred Sainz, a friend of Ride who is the vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, in an interview with USA Today. “For her not to have shared an incredibly important aspect of her life — being in a committed long-term relationship with a woman — meant many Americans did not get to see a dimension of her life that would have helped them understand us (gay people) and our contributions to society.”Ride’s decision to wait until her death to reveal her sexuality has also caught the attention of those who felt she might have done more to openly support rights for homosexuals.
However, Sainz notes that Ride’s family and friends knew about her lifestyle. “She just didn’t want to go public with it during her lifetime. And that’s a big difference.”
Ride’s legacy will live on in the form of Sally Ride Science and the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative. The Sally Ride Science website encourages those wishing to pay tribute to America’s first woman astronaut send donations to the cancer initiative. More than 90 percent of the donations will toward pancreatic cancer research at the UCSD Moore’s Cancer Center.
“In lieu of flowers, you may wish to make a gift in memory of Sally to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative (Fund 4191),” states the website. “Checks should be made out to: UCSD Foundation. Also, in either the memo line or in an enclosed note, please state that the gift is made in memory of Sally Ride or to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative (Fund 4191).”
The mailing address for gifts is: Pam Werner, Executive Director of Development, UCSD Health Sciences Dev., 9500 Gilman Dr. #0853, La Jolla, CA 92093-0853.
People wishing to donate by credit card should call Pam Werner at 858-246-1556.
Sally Ride Partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy
Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, passed away at the age of 61, leaving behind her longtime female partner.