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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Sally  Ride

Sally Ride 1951to –2012

American astronaut and physicist. Her parents supported her interest in science from a young age, and although she considered a career in professional tennis, science eventually won out. She was one of 8,000 applicants who answered an advertisement to join the space program, and was officially accepted by NASA in 1978. She helped develop the space shuttle’s robot arm, and served as CapCom—the person on the ground who communicates directly with the space crew—on two of its missions. In 1983, she became the first American woman in space, and the youngest, as a crew member on Challenger for the STS-7 mission. She tried to downplay the importance of her gender, but still had to field a number of inane and biased questions from the media. She went into space again for STS-41-G, and was in training for her third mission when Challenger was destroyed. Ride was appointed to the committee to investigate the disaster, and was the only one to support the engineer who had warned of technical problems prior to lift-off. She retired from NASA in 1987 and began to teach, dedicating herself to encouraging children, especially young girls, to love science. Despite being such a public figure, Ride always valued her privacy. Her 5-year marriage to a fellow astronaut in the 80s was documented, but her 27-year same-sex relationship was only known by friends and family. It wasn’t revealed to the general public until her obituary, which listed her surviving partner as Tam O'Shaughnessy, a childhood friend, co-author of several of her books, and co-founder of her educational company Sally Ride Science.

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