This blog post is about Sally Ride: the youngest American, the first American woman and the first LGBT+ person in space (though not publicly out at the time).
Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Sally was a nationally ranked tennis player in her adolescence and intertwined this athleticism with a noticeable interest in science. She went to Swarthmore College for three semesters before entering Stanford University as a junior, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in english and physics before gaining a master’s degree (1975) and PhD in physics (1978). In 1978, Sally was chosen to join NASA serving as the communicator for the second and third space shuttle flights (STS-2 and STS-3) and then helped to develop the robot arm of the space shuttle (Canadarm).
In 1983, Sally became the first American woman in space as a crew member on space shuttle Challenger. Yet Sally was subject to sexist media attention due to her gender. This included questions about whether flying would affect her reproductive organs and crying at work. Nevertheless, Sally insisted she was simply a regular astronaut, completing the flight successfully and in the process, becoming the first person to use the arm to retrieve a satellite. She then completed a second period in space in 1984, and had completed eight months of training for her third flight when the Challenger disaster occurred, killing all seven crew members on board. It was revealed following Sally’s death that she had in fact provided the key information which led to the indentification of the cause of the explosion. Following the investigation, Sally was assigned to NASA headquarters, leading NASA’s first strategic planning effort, authoring a paper in the process and founding NASA’s Office of Exploration.
In 1987, Sally returned to her alma mater Stanford University to work at the Center for International Security and Arms Control. Two years later, she became a professor of physics at UCSD and director of the California Space Institute. Devoted to making science interesting to children, Ride tirelessly led the ISS EarthKAM and GRAIL MoonKAM projects from the mid-1990s onwards. These programs allowed middle school students to request images of the Earth and Moon. In 2001, Sally founded Sally Ride Science to create entertaining science programs and publications for adolescents with a focus upon girls. Furthermore, Sally wrote and co-wrote seven books on space aimed at encouraging children to study students.
Sally died of pancreatic cancer in 2012 in California. She was private about her personal life, yet after her death it was revealed that she had been in a relationship with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy for 27 years, making her the first known LGBT+ astronaut and an inspirational figure to the LGBT+ community