When the Soviet Union began the space race, the US struggled to catch up. With the first satellite and the first man in space, the Soviets were ahead of the US for years. February 16, 1962, was a Soviet first which the US would not match for over 20 years, as they launched the first woman, Valentina Tereshkova, into orbit.
But while the Soviet Union launched a textile worker into space, to prove that anyone could be a Cosmonaut, when the US did launch a woman into space, they chose a noted Astrophysicist, Dr Sally Ride from Encino, California. She worked as the CapCom for the second and third shuttle flights, and when it came time to select the crew for the first full-up 5-person crew on the Space Shuttle Challenger, her name was at the top of the list. That flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger, STS-7 was a milestone for NASA operations, being the first to retrieve a satellite for return to earth, a specially designed research tool which Dr. Ride deployed, then retrieved.
During her years with NASA and afterwards, Dr Ride was critical in the investigations of both Shuttle disasters. She sat on many committees, helping to reform the stagnant NASA bureaucracy. In addition, she changed the models used for funding, introducing easy to understand visual budget aides for NASA, now nicknamed Sally Charts in many circles.
But what she truly brought to the program was accessibility. She was regularly in the public eye, always engaging in outreach to the public. From her science education website to her Science Camps, she was always engaging new people, to make them excited about science.
She passed away on July 22nd, 2012, after a 17 month struggle with pancreatic cancer.
In her obituary, however, another side of the deeply personal Dr Ride was thrust into the limelight. The revelation of a 27 year relationship she had with childhood friend Tam O’Shaughnessy. Dr.s Ride and O’Shaughnessy shared a remarkable life together.
The true tragedy comes with the revelation that they had to keep their love hidden away. In order for accepted in this nation, to not be threatened with the loss of their careers and livelihoods, they could not publicly acknowledge what was true for them. This is a tragedy that society could not accept it, forcing these two remarkable women to live in the closet.
Dr. Ride will continue to inspire generations, a public face for NASA, for women in science, for homosexuals, for people fighting cancer. Her remarkable life is now for the future of all mankind to learn from. Never again should any person fear outing, fear to express the love they hold for another human being.
Because that is the loss for the nation, that a true American hero had to live such a life.
And we should be ashamed of ourselves that it had to be.
Sally Ride, my hero.
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