When she boarded the Space Shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, Sally Ride (May 26, 1951 — July 23, 2012) became not only the first American woman in space, but also the nation’s first lesbian astronaut and its youngest astronaut to ever to launch into the cosmos. A lifelong advocate for science education and the author of several science books seeking to inspire kids to reach for the stars, she gave generations of girls and young women affirmation and a promise of belonging in scientific careers.
In 2001, Ride founded Sally Ride Science with the goal of empowering science educators with professional development programs and classroom materials. After news of her death broke in 2012, President Barack Obama told CNN:
Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model… She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally’s life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come.
Ride spent the last three decades of her life with her partner, educator and children’s science writer Tam Elizabeth O’Shaughnessy, but in a tragic exercise in cultural hegemony, certain news outlets chose to remember Ride with a sole photo of her and Steve Hawley, the astronaut to whom she was briefly married in her thirties, kissing. While Ride paved the way for diversity in NASA — and in science — we’re left wondering whether, and hoping that, it does indeed get better.
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