LGBTQ+ Pride Month – Honoring Sally Ride
Sally Ride was the first American woman in space and the first space traveler known to be LGBT. Ride was born in Los Angeles, California, and as a child, was interested in astrophysics and tennis. While finishing her PhD in physics at Stanford, Ride decided to apply to be an astronaut after seeing an article in the student newspaper announcing that NASA was looking for new astronauts and, for the first time, women could apply.
After extensive testing and training, on January 16, 1978, she received a phone call from NASA’s director of flight operations, who informed her that she had been selected.
Before going into space, Ride was the first female CAPCOM (capsule communicator), the voice talking to the astronauts on the space shuttle, and helped develop the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, also known as Canadarm or robot arm used to deploy, maneuver, and capture payloads.
Ride’s grace and mental toughness were tested before going into space in the pre-flight media campaign. During one news conference, she was asked, “Do you weep when things go wrong on the job?” She laughed, gestured to her crewmate Rick Hauck, and replied, “Why don’t people ask Rick those questions?”
On June 18, 1983, the Space Shuttle Challenger lifted off and Ride because the first American woman to fly in space, and the third woman overall. Ride went back into space the next year and is regarded as saving the mission to deploy the SIR-B antenna by using the robot arm that she helped develop. On her two flights, Ride spent over 343 hours in space.
In May 1987, Ride left NASA and accepted a fellowship at Stanford University. She went onto become a professor of physics at UCSD and the director of the California Space Institute. She also was the president and CEO of Sally Ride Science, a company she co-founded with life partner Tam O’Shaughnessy, who served as the CEO and chair of the board. Sally Ride Science was focused on creating science programs and publications for students, with an aim of getting girls interested in science and engineering.
Sally Ride was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and died only fifteen months later, on July 23, 2012, at age 61. After her death, a group of female astronauts gathered in her honor. Ellen Ochoa, the first Hispanic woman in space, later described the scene. “As we went around the table, just about every single woman in the astronaut office, current and former, had been personally affected by Sally,” Ochoa said. “As much in demand as she was, she always made time to meet with young women who dreamed of becoming astronauts.”
In 2013, President Obama honored Sally Ride posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which he presented to Tam O’Shaughnessy. “As the first American woman in space, Sally did not just break the stratospheric glass ceiling, she blasted through it,” Obama said. “And when she came back to Earth, she devoted her life to helping girls excel in fields like math, science and engineering.”