American Pride for Astronaut Sally Ride

Today’s Pride Month post comes from Danielle Sklarew, an intern in the National Archives History Office.

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Sally Ride, America’s first woman astronaut, communicates with ground controllers from the flight deck during the six-day mission of the Challenger, June 1983. (National Archives Identifier 541940)

On June 18, 1983, Dr. Sally Ride zoomed away from earth on a NASA Space Shuttle, breaking barriers as she reached immense heights. As Ride embarked on this mission, she officially became the first American woman to fly in space.

Ride, before she became an astronaut, received a doctorate in physics from Stanford University. During her time as a student, she was an extremely talented tennis player and was encouraged by many in the tennis community to pursue a professional career in the sport.

However, her love for science overrode her tennis passion, and when she saw a newspaper ad encouraging women to apply to work for the NASA space program, she applied—and the rest is history.

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Sally Ride as a NASA candidate, April 24, 1979. (National Archives Identifier 17472006)

Sally Ride is remembered for a plethora of reasons. Certainly, her contributions to the American space program are unforgettable and have blazed a path for many women after her, whether that be directly related to women in the space program or women in the sciences in general.

Shortly after her retirement from NASA, Ride co-founded Sally Ride Science, an organization that aims to promote enthusiasm in science and technology fields for young people, and especially for young women and minorities. Ride headed this initiative with her partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy.

Ride and O’Shaughnessy were private about their romantic relationship during Ride’s life, and they did not publicly acknowledge their relationship until Ride’s death of pancreatic cancer in 2012.

Since Ride’s death, O’Shaughnessy has been very open about their relationship and their reasons for not publicly disclosing it, which she attributes to Ride’s fiercely private nature and also the fear of losing funding for Sally Ride Science due to potential backlash.

However, reception of the news has been generally positive for O’Shaughnessy, who has been included in many ceremonies to honor the life of her incredibly accomplished partner.

In 2013, when the late Ride was honored by Barack Obama with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it was O’Shaughnessy who collected the award for her partner.

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Tam O’Shaughnessy, Sally Ride’s life partner and the chair of the board of directors of Sally Ride Science, with President Barack Obama as she prepares to accept the Presidential Medal of Freedom on behalf of Dr. Ride, November 20, 2013, at the White House in Washington, DC. (Image Credit: NASA/Carla Cioffi)

More recently, in 2016, the U.S. Navy named a research vessel after Ride, the first one of its kind to be named after a woman. Traditionally, when Navy ships are named after men, their wives are asked to be the ship’s sponsor. Breaking the mold, O’Shaughnessy was given the honor of celebrating Dr. Ride’s legacy and became R/V Sally Ride’s ship sponsor.

Tam O’Shaughnessy continues to promote the cause she and her partner have always been so passionate about as she continues to head Sally Ride Science as acting executive director.

Dr. Ride’s legacy lives on through the barriers she helped to break and through the many ways she worked to promote science for youth, whether that was through Sally Ride Science or through the many children’s books she authored.

Her longtime partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy, is instrumental in celebrating the life of the woman she loved and continuing to promote Ride’s accomplishments in order to inspire the American public to achieve new heights.

This June the National Archives joins Americans across the United States and abroad in celebrating National Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month, which honors the important contributions that LGBTQ+ Americans have made to United States history and culture. Visit the National Archives website for more information on our related holdings.

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