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On This Gay Day | Sally Ride headed into outer space

Sally Ride was the third woman to go into space, and the first American female astronaut

In 1983 American astronaut Sally Ride made history as the third woman to go into space.

She followed in the footsteps of Russian cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova, who made history in twenty years earlier in 1963, and Svetlana Saviskaya who served on a mission in 1982.

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Ride was a member of the crew of the Challenger space shuttle for its STS-7 mission which saw it deploy several satellites and the very first Shuttle pallet satellite. Ride made a second trip into space the following year. All together she spent a total 343 hours in space over her two missions.

It was not until her death from cancer in 2012 that it became publicly known that Ride was in a long term same-sex relationship.

Her obituary shared that she had been with her partner Tam O’Shaughnessy since 1985, making Ride the first same sex attracted person, that we know of, to have flown in space.

In university Ride obtained both a Bachelor of Science degree in physics, and a Bachelor of Arts in literature. She went on to earn a Masters of Science in physics, and a doctorate.

After her time in NASA she worked at Stanford University and later the University of California, San Diego. She served on committees that investigated the loss of the Challenger and Columbia space shuttles; she was the only person to serve on both investigations.

President Bill Clinton offered Ride the position of NASA Administrator, but she turned it down, not wanting to leave her home in California. She did however accept a position on the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology.

Sally ride has been remembered in many ways, two High Schools are named after her, and a science award bears her name. The United States navy named a research vessel after her – the RV Sally Ride was launched in 2016.

In 2013 she was posthumously awarded the USA’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She’s been featured on coins and postage stamps and even had a Google Doodle in her honour.

Janelle Monae wrote a song called Sally Ride, and she’s mentioned in Billy Joel’s listicle song We Didn’t Start the Fire. Playwright Liza Birkenmeier wrote a play that featured Rider as a character, and Mattel released a Barbie doll version of the astronaut as part of their ‘Inspiring Women’ series. In 2022 a Cygnus spacecraft used for a space mission was named the S.S. Sally Ride.

In 2024 it was announced that Kristen Stewart would play Ride in an upcoming television series about her life titled The Challenger.

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