Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, has died

Sally Ride, in 1983 communicating with ground control
Sally Ride was a physicist who became the first American woman to go into space on 18 June 1983 on Space shuttle Challenger. She made two space flights, totalling some 343 hours in space.

She died on 23 July 2012, following a long battle with pancreatic cancer. 

Ride married fellow NASA astronaut, Steve Hawley, in 1982, but they divorced in 1987.

The  obituary released through her company, Sally Ride Science, revealed that she is survived by her female partner, Dr Tam E O'Shaughnessy, something never previously acknowledged publicly, although they had been partners since 1985. O'Shaughnessy was a childhood friend; they met when they were young, aspiring tennis players.

She founded Sally Ride Science in 2001 to create entertaining science programs and publications for upper elementary and middle school students, with a particular focus on girls.

Commenting on the obituary's apparent revelation, Ride's sister, Bear Ride, said, "We consider Tam a member of the family." Saying that her sister was a very private person, Bear Ride also said, "People did not know she had pancreatic cancer, that's going to be a huge shock. For 17 months, nobody knew - and everyone does now. Her memorial fund is going to be in support of pancreatic cancer. 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, who identifies as gay, added: "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."
Following her death, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who has - to say the least - a poor record on LGBT issues, sent out a tweet of condolence. ("Sally Ride ranks among the greatest of pioneers. I count myself among the millions of Americans she inspired with her travels to space.") Sarah Palinm that bastion of tolerance, did something similar. It prompeted a flurry of outraged responses from various sources:http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/24/sally-ride-death-mitt-romney-tweet-gay-response_n_1699385.html - has a slide show giving a selection of the most intersting replies.

A piece by Michaelangelo Signorile on The Huffington Post about why Sally Ride's sexual orientation should not be glossed over.
Also: 'Sally Ride and questions of how to memorialize semi-closeted public figures':

UPDATE 26/7/12: Amazingly, it appears that Ride was recruited to the astronaut programme by another icon. It was Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura from the Star Ship Enterprise) who recruited her to NASA.
More information:

NB: The first woman in space was the Russian Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (Валентина Владимировна Терешкова) on 16 June 1963.

Photo courtesy of US National Archives & Records Administration, via Wikipedia

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