Sally Ride, America’s first woman in space, comes out in obituary

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Daily Brew

On Monday, Sally Ride, 61, died of pancreatic cancer.

In an obituary celebrating her life, Sally, the first American woman to enter space, came out. One simple sentence made public her 27-year romantic relationship with a woman:

"In addition to Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country," the obituary on Sally's site, Sally Ride Science, said.

Sally's sister, Bear, confirmed the revelation on BuzzFeed:

"I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them," Bear said in the interview.

Sally first met her partner, O'Shaughnessy, when they were 12-year-olds playing tennis. The friends-turned-lovers have co-written a series of science books for children.

Sally married astronaut Steven Hawley in 1982. They divorced in 1987. They had no children.

Bear said her sister was famously private. "Sally didn't use labels. Sally had a very fundamental sense of privacy, it was just her nature, because we're Norwegians, through and through." She did not publicly reveal her struggle with pancreatic cancer, either. Sally Ride's memorial fund is in support of pancreatic cancer research.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," Bear, who identifies as gay, told BuzzFeed.

As for why Sally didn't use her fame to take a stand on LGBT rights, Bear insists Sally's greatest passion was science education for children.

"That wasn't her battle of choice — the battle of choice was science education for kids. And I just hope that all the different components of Sally's life go towards helping kids," Bear told The New Times Broward Palm Beach.

"Sally Ride broke barriers with grace and professionalism — and literally changed the face of America's space program," former astronaut Charles Bolden told The Telegraph.

Sally Ride was the first American woman to enter space. She remains the youngest American to enter space, at 32. And now we know she was the first lesbian in space, too.

Even in death, Sally Ride broke barriers.