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Remembering Sally Ride, America's First Woman in Space

By July 23, 2012

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Astronaut Sally Ride, first US woman in space

Most women who break the glass ceiling in their respective professional fields aren't burdened by the added pressure of having the whole world watching. But when astronaut Sally Ride went up on the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, she pushed beyond more than the earth's atmosphere. She was the first U.S. woman in space, an achievement that was long overdue considering that the first woman in space, Soviet cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, set that record two decades earlier. Yet Ride occupies two spots on the timeline of the history of the U.S. in space. So much emphasis was placed on Ride's gender that few realized that she was also the youngest American in space at age 32.

Initially Ride responded not to the call of space but to a help wanted ad in her campus newspaper. She applied to the astronaut training program the first year that women were accepted. Out of 8,000 applicants, 35 were chosen. Sally Ride was one of 6 women. While one popular TV show of the 1960s famously described space as "the final frontier," that frontier was opened by Ride on June 18, 1983 when she was the most famous crew member of the seventh shuttle flight.

Sally Ride passed away earlier today after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was just 61 years old.

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July 25, 2012 at 10:34 pm
(1) ShirleyInOz says:

Ride, Sally Ride

I can’t help wondering where that will put people who have gone on for years about what a great person she is, what a wonderful example to women, what a fine American, a hero… when they are forced to confront their homophobia. Is she diminished as a person? Are her achievements somehow less?

As for people who are calling her an “absent hero” get over yourselves. Everyone is entitled to their privacy and she was not obliged to come out for anyone but herself.

A persons sexuality, like their gender, is only part of the package.

July 26, 2012 at 12:18 am
(2) womensissues says:

Thank you ShirleyInOz for bringing up this issue. I didn’t mention anything about Sally Ride’s sexuality because it is irrelevant to her accomplishments, and anyone who regards her as reputation as diminished because of her personal preferences is cruel at best. You’re absolutely right. She was not obliged to come out for anyone but herself, and you have to ask yourself — would this ever happen in the case of a gay male astronaut? None have ever come out. The following is excerpted from an article at Space.com:

“Ride’s decision to keep her sexual orientation private reflects her very private nature, sources said. But the lack of even one openly gay or lesbian astronaut in the history of American spaceflight may reflect the culture at the NASA astronaut office. Although NASA does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, Michael Cassutt, author of five books and hundreds of articles about human spaceflight, said coming out would until recently have been ‘a career-wrecker’ for an astronaut. ‘Not for any formal reason, but in the same way that any medical issue or even some kind of notoriety has been an astronaut career-wrecker,’ Cassutt told SPACE.com.”

July 26, 2012 at 1:12 am
(3) ShirleyInOz says:

Hi Linda,

yes, I noticed you didn’t mention Sally’s sexual orientation and I applaud you on how Sally’s life and achievements were very respectfully reported.

However, given it had cropped up on FB discussions I thought I would comment, especially given the growing “absent hero” criticisms from sections of the gay lobby. Seems with ‘coming out’ you are damned if you do, damned if you don’t … and it’s nobody elses damned business.

I don’t doubt for one moment that being open about her sexuality would have nixed her career prospects and your comments on ‘career wrecker’ for an astronaut are spot on.

Just my two cents. Which is apparently worth the same as it always was. :)

July 26, 2012 at 8:16 am
(4) Sue says:

I didn’t realize any of this info. about Ms. Ride’s sexuality. I agree that it was not appropriate to put into this article. If Ms. Ride wanted her sexual orientation to be a major factor in what the public knows about her, that should be her choice & her choice alone.

There are some people (homosexual or not) who think that their sexual orientation & discussions of their sex life are private, personal & not for public consumption. I am one of those; I have been married for 39 years w/a wonderful relationship w/my husband in all ways. I don’t discuss our sexual life except, perhaps, at my yearly ob/gyn exam or when I explained to our children “the birds & the bees” & tried to install our family’s belief in the concepts of joy, commitment, love & responsibility that go along w/sexual relationships.

I liken it to those who have a mental illness. It is a private medical condition that should not be revealed to the public w/out the person’s permission. It is not wrong or shameful to have a mental illness, but it is a private matter that the individual should have the choice to reveal to the general public or not. I commend those who are fighting the stigma associated w/having a mental illness (Clenn Close comes to mind; she has started a foundation to educate the public about the various mental disorders to increase the awareness of treatment options & discourage fear & prejudice).

I believe Anderson Cooper just revealed he is a homosexual. I’m not sure of the circumstances (haven’t watched the video), but I really don’t see how it is any of our business. I guess as a public figure we (the public) somehow think we are owed info. about people we see on TV. I don’t get it, but if Mr. Cooper felt compelled or wanted to reveal this private info. that is certainly his choice…

Ms. Ride’s accomplishments are tremendous & she is a role model to all people–male, female, young & old My condolences to Ms. Rides’ family & friends; it is a great loss.

July 31, 2012 at 9:30 pm
(5) Anne Caroline says:

Ride, Sally, Ride. Thanks for the memories. May you rest in peace.

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