Monday, July 23, 2012
Sally Ride: 1951-2012
Sally Ride, barrier-breaking astronaut, has died at the too-young age of 61. She had fought pancreatic cancer for 17 months. She made history as the first American woman in space in 1983, the first of two trips she made on the shuttle. When she made the first trip, I remember wondering why it took so long for this particular glass ceiling to break. Many other people did as well, including Ride who said at the time "it's too bad this is such a big deal. It's too bad our society isn't further along."
She was born in Los Angeles and earned multiple degrees in English and Physics from Stanford where she was also a nationally ranked tennis player. In fact, for a time she considered tennis as a career before opting for physics. After leaving NASA, she served as a professor of physics at the University of California-San Diego and director of the California Space Institute. She is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy.
I had no idea until today that Sally Ride was a lesbian. She was married to a male astronaut, Steven Hawley, for five years in the 80s. This passage from The New York Times obituary resonates of a past in the closet:
"In 1983, Susan Okie, a longtime friend and a journalist, wrote an article in The Washington Post in which she described Dr. Ride as elusive and enigmatic, protective of her emotions. 'During college and graduate school,' Dr. Okie wrote, 'I had to interrogate her to find out what was happening in her personal life."