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Popular Topics in The Arts
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Topics In the News
 
Honoring Sally Ride
Posted by: Claude J. Summers on 04/15/13
Last updated on: 04/15/13
 
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On April 12, 2013, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced that a new Navy ship will be named after pioneering astronaut Sally Ride. Mabus said that the ship will be an auxiliary general oceanographic research or "AGOR" ship and will be named R/V Sally Ride (AGOR 28). AGOR ships are traditionally named for leaders in science and exploration.

The ship will honor the memory of Ride, a renowned professor, scientist, and innovator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego. Ride was also the first woman and youngest person in space, and later served as director of NASA's Office of Exploration.

As reported by NBC San Diego, Mabus said "I named R/V Sally Ride to honor a great researcher, but also to encourage generations of students to continue exploring, discovering and reaching for the stars."

The ship, which will be 238 feet in length and able to operate at more than 12 knots, will be a well-equipped oceanographic research platform that includes acoustic equipment used to map the deepest parts of the ocean. It will boast modular onboard laboratories capable of supporting a wide variety of oceanographic research challenges.

After making history as the first American woman in space when she flew as a mission specialist aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983, making a second flight in 1984, and retiring from NASA in 1987, Ride devoted herself to education, both as a university professor and the founder of Sally Ride Science, an enterprise that encourages girls to study mathematics, science, and engineering and to pursue careers in those fields.

Ride did not come out publicly during her lifetime. Her lesbianism did not become generally known until July 2012 when the announcement of her death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 61 acknowledged her longtime partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy. The revelation prompted a wide-ranging discussion about the closet and the obligation of famous glbtq people to come out.

Among the questions raised by the posthumous outing of Ride included, for example, did Ride, a genuine heroine, have an obligation to come out? Would her being out have advanced the cause of glbtq rights? Was she closeted because she feared that she would not have been selected as an astronaut or, later, that her work with children would suffer were she out? Could it be that Ride, having surmounted the obstacles she faced as a woman in science, felt that confronting another obstacle would be too demanding and exhausting?

While these questions raised by Ride's failure to come out publicly during her lifetime are important ones that may not be answered until a definitive biography of the astronaut appears, it is well to remember that they also say as much about the homophobic culture in which Ride came of age and achieved her great feat as they do about Ride herself.

Similarly, it is important to emphasize that although Ride was not publicly open about her lesbianism or her relationship with O'Shaugnessy, the two women were not closeted. They were known and accepted as a couple by their large circle of friends and family.

As Linda Rapp writes in her glbtq entry on Ride, the "long love affair [between Ride and O'Shaughnessy]is inspiring. They met when they were twelve years old and played tennis together. They became life partners in 1985, two years after Ride's historic flight. Sharing a passion for science and for education, they stayed together in good times and bad times, including through Ride's terminal illness. In short, they were married in every way except the name."

In the video below, Ride remembers her historic flight.

 
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