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In Memoriam

Sally Ride, first U.S. woman in space, dies of cancer; comes ‘out’ in obituary

Monday, July 23, 2012
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Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday at the age of 61, following a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer.

An announcement from her website, Sally Ride Science, noted that Ride is survived by “Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.” O’Shaughnessy is chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science — and a woman — acknowledging that one of the most famous members of the U.S. space program was gay.

Sally Ride

Ride became the first American woman in space when, in 1983, she boarded the space shuttle Challenger for a 147 hour space mission, culminating a long journey that started in 1977 when, as a Ph.D. candidate, she answered an ad seeking astronauts for NASA.

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.

An official with NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center in suburban Washington DC, speaking on condition of anonymity, told LGBTQ Nation that Ride’s sexual orientation was common knowledge in the tight knit space exploration community, and among those who knew her personally.

“She never placed emphasis on her personal life, she was always very reserved about her private life, instead always reaching out to improve the lives of others especially young people,” the source said. “She never used her fame as a vehicle for self enrichment, instead using her celebrity to open doors for young people, encouraging them to look for their own bright futures and careers.”

In a statement released by the White House, President Barack Obama said that Ride “inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars, and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools.”

“Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come,” the President said.

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