She broke barriers, sonic and otherwise, when she flew into orbit as the first American woman in space. She broke another when she died of pancreatic cancer yesterday, at age 61, and her family let it be known that “Dr. Ride is survived by her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.”
The New York Times has her full obituary, including the quote above. Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed has more, including comments from Ride’s sister Bear (who is also gay). Bear Ride said, among other things, “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them.”
Sally Ride’s first trip on the shuttle was in 1983, and her second in 1984. I started college in 1984 knowing I wanted to be an astronomy major. Ride, a physicist as well as an astronaut, was definitely an inspiration. Turns out I ended up with a double major in Astronomy and Medieval/Renaissance Studies, perhaps an odd combination, but Ride had bachelor’s degrees in both Physics and English, so at least I felt I was in good company.
Ride was not a parent, but definitely influenced many young people’s lives. She founded Sally Ride Science in 2001, “to pursue her long-time passion for motivating young girls and boys to stick with their interests in science and to consider pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.” The company provides school programs, materials, and teacher training.
I am glad to see that the Sally Ride Science site, in its obituary of her, also mentions “Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.” Her legacy will extend far beyond LGBT youth—but perhaps it will give them particular inspiration to reach for the stars.
O’Shaughnessy herself is the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science, as well as a professor of school psychology and award-winning children’s science writer.
Pancreatic cancer took Ride almost one year after it took my father. One more reason I support the Lustgarten Foundation, which focuses on treatment, cure and prevention of the disease. Ride’s memorial fund, the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative, will support pancreatic cancer research at the University of California-San Diego Moores Cancer Center.
After Ride’s historic first flight, Gloria Steinem said, “Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists.”
And if they happen to love another woman, that won’t matter a bit.