UPDATE 2, 7/25: Also see our latest post, Sally Ride's Sister, on the Wikipedia Debate Over Homosexuality: "Sally Hated Labels of Every Kind."
See also: Sally Ride Dead at 61.
Sally Ride, the first U.S. woman in space, died today at the age of 61. An announcement from Sally Ride Science notes that Ride is outlived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years." O'Shaughnessy is the chief operating officer and executive vice president of Sally Ride Science -- and a woman, revealing that one of the most famous members of the United States space program was gay.
The announcement puts the start of their relationship at around 1985 -- while Ride was still married to fellow astronaut Steven Hawley. Sally Ride Science spokeswoman Terry McEntee confirmed the announcement -- when asked if Ride was gay, she said, "Yes. That's true. What's on the website is true."
Ride's sister, Bear, who is also gay, told New Times Monday night that her sister never publicly revealed her sexual orientation because of a closely held commitment to her personal privacy.
"Sally was a profoundly private person. It was just part of who she was. We chalk that up to being Norwegian," Bear said. "She had a sense of 'this is family stuff.'"
But Bear said Sally didn't make any efforts to hide the relationship: "They went places together, they're in business together, they wrote books together," she said. "We consider Tam a member of the family."
But that desire for privacy, Bear said, is what kept Sally from taking a stand on gay rights.
"We all have our dreams and wishes, and that might be yours or mine, but she's just like, you probably dont know what her politics are either. It's a family matter," Bear said. "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."
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She did say, however, that "we think that it's a good thing" that it's been disclosed publicly now.
As for Sally's illness, Bear said she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in March 2011, which came "as a huge surprise."
She said Sally entered hospice care two weeks ago. She died this morning.
"She had a smile on her face and was surrounded by her family," Bear said. "Her work here was done."