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Monday, July 23rd, 2012
Associated Press


SALLY RIDE, FIRST US WOMAN IN SPACE, DIES AT 61
by ALICIA CHANG
AP Science Writers

SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writers


FILE - In this June 1983 file photo provided by NASA, astronaut Sally K. Ride, STS-7 mission specialist, communicates with ground controllers from the mid-deck of the earth-orbiting Space Shuttle Challenger. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/NASA, File)

LOS ANGELES (AP) - Space used to be a man's world. Then came Sally Ride, who blazed a cosmic trail into orbit for U.S. women. With a pitch perfect name out of a pop song refrain, she joined the select club of American space heroes the public knew by heart: Shepard, Glenn, Armstrong and Aldrin.

Ride, the first American woman in orbit, died Monday at her home in the San Diego community of La Jolla at age 61 of pancreatic cancer, according to her company, Sally Ride Science.

Ride flew into space on the space shuttle Challenger on June 18, 1983, when she was 32. Since then, 42 other American women followed her into space.

"Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

When shuttles started flying frequently with crews of six or seven, astronauts became plentiful and anonymous. Not Ride.

FILE - In this Oct. 7, 2009 file photo, former Astronaut Sally Ride speaks to members of the media as NASA personnel set-up astronomy equipment on the South Lawn of the White House in preparation for an event with the President and the First Lady, in Washington. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

"People around the world still recognize her name as the first American woman in space, and she took that title seriously even after departing NASA," Eileen Collins, the first female space shuttle commander, said in a statement. "She never sought media attention for herself, but rather focused on doing her normally outstanding job."

When Ride first launched into space, feminist icons such as Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda were at Kennedy Space Center and many wore T-shirts alluding to the pop song with the refrain of the same name: "Ride, Sally Ride."

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, a former astronaut, said Ride "broke barriers with grace and professionalism - and literally changed the face of America's space program."

"The nation has lost one of its finest leaders, teachers and explorers," he said in a statement.

Ride was a physicist, writer of five science books for children and president of her own company, which motivates youngsters to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math. She had also been a professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.

FILE - In this Aug. 29, 1983 file photo, astronaut Sally Ride poses at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Caneveral, Fla. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/Brian Russell, File)

In 1978, NASA included women in the astronaut corps, selecting Ride and five other women to join the club, which had been dominated by male military test pilots. Ride beat out fellow astronaut candidates to be the first American female in space. Her first flight came two decades after the Soviets sent a woman into space and less than a year after a second Soviet woman flew.

"On launch day, there was so much excitement and so much happening around us in crew quarters, even on the way to the launch pad," Ride recalled in a NASA interview for the 25th anniversary of her flight in 2008. "I didn't really think about it that much at the time - but I came to appreciate what an honor it was to be selected to be the first to get a chance to go into space."

Ride flew in space twice, both times on Challenger, in 1983 and on October 5, 1984, logging 343 hours in space. A third flight was cancelled when Challenger exploded in 1986. She was on the commission investigating that accident and later served on the panel for the 2003 Columbia shuttle accident, the only person on both boards. She also was on the president's committee of science advisers.

The 20th anniversary of her first flight also coincided with the loss of Columbia, a bittersweet time for Ride, who discussed it in a 2003 interview with The Associated Press. She acknowledged it was depressing to spend the anniversary investigating the accident, which killed seven astronauts.

"But in another sense, it's rewarding because it's an opportunity to be part of the solution and part of the changes that will occur and will make the program better," she said.

FILE - In this July 28, 2009 file photo, former astronaut Dr. Sally Ride, with Jeffrey Greason in the background, comments during a public meeting of the Review of U.S. Human Space Flight Plans Committee, in League City, Texas. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Brett Coomer, File) MANDATORY CREDIT AP PHOTO/HOUSTON CHRONICLE, BRETT COOMER.

Later in the interview, she focused on science education and talked about "being a role model and being very visible."

"She was very smart," said former astronaut Norman Thagard, who was on Ride's first flight. "We did have a good time."

It was all work on that first flight, except for a first-in-space sprint around the inside of the shuttle, Thagard recalled in a phone interview Monday. He didn't know who won.

Born on May 26, 1951, in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, Ride became fascinated with science early on, playing with a chemistry kit and telescope. She also excelled in tennis and competed in national junior tournaments.

She earned bachelor's degrees in physics and English from Stanford University in 1973 and a master's in 1975. She saw an ad in the student newspaper calling for scientists and engineers to apply to become astronauts and was chosen in 1978, the same year she earned her doctorate in physics from Stanford.

FILE - This undated file photo released by NASA shows astronaut Sally Ride. Ride, the first American woman in space, died Monday, July 23, 2012 after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 61. (AP Photo/NASA, File)

Ride was married to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley from 1982 to 1987. Hawley said Ride was never fully comfortable being in the spotlight.

"While she never enjoyed being a celebrity, she recognized that it gave her the opportunity to encourage children, particularly young girls, to reach their full potential," Hawley said in a statement released by NASA.

One of Ride's last legacies was allowing middle school students to take their own pictures of the moon using cameras aboard NASA's twin Grail spacecraft in a project spearheaded by her company.

"Sally literally could have done anything with her life. She decided to devote her life to education and to inspiring young people. To me, that's such a powerful thing. It's extraordinarily admirable," said Maria Zuber, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who heads the Grail mission.

Ride's office said she is survived by Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years and a co-founder of Sally Ride Science; her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear, a niece; and a nephew.


INFO ABOUT THE WRITERS
Borenstein reported from Washington and can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears.
Alicia Chang can be followed at http://www.twitter.com/SciWriAlicia.


Written by ALICIA CHANG
AP Science Writers

SETH BORENSTEIN
AP Science Writers
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten , or redistributed.

Photos courtesy of AP Photo
Images created by NASA, Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Brian Russell, Houston Chronicle, Brett Coomer

Last changed on: 7/30/2012 1:47:52 PM

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RELATED STORY:

SALLY RIDE SPARKS POSTHUMOUS DEBATE ON COMING OUT


BY: DAVID CRARY
AP National Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Pioneering astronaut Sally Ride, who relished privacy as much as she did adventure, chose an appropriately discreet manner of coming out.

At the end of an obituary that she co-wrote with her partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, they disclosed to the world their relationship of 27 years. That was it.

As details trickled out after Ride's death on Monday, it became clear that a circle of family, friends and co-workers had long known of the same-sex relationship and embraced it. For many millions of others, who admired Ride as the first American woman in space, it was a revelation — and it sparked a spirited discussion about privacy vs. public candor in regard to sexual orientation.

Some commentators, such as prominent gay blogger Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast, second-guessed Ride's decision to opt for privacy.

"She had a chance to expand people's horizons and young lesbians' hope and self-esteem, and she chose not to," he wrote. "She was the absent heroine."

Others were supportive of Ride's choices.

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who in 2003 became the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican world, noted that both he and Ride were baby boomers who grew up "in a time when coming out was almost unthinkable."

Robinson is 65. Ride was 61 when she died of pancreatic cancer.

"For girls who had an interest in science and wanted to go places women had not been allowed to go, she was a tremendous role model," Robinson said Wednesday. "The fact that she chose to keep her identity as a lesbian private — I honor that choice."

However, Robinson said he had a different standard for younger gays — to the point of insisting that his own clergy in New Hampshire be open about their sexuality if they are gay or lesbian.

"While there is still discrimination and coming out will still have repercussions, the effect of those repercussions are vastly reduced now," Robinson said. "I believe that times have changed."

There's no question that gays and lesbians overall are coming out now at a higher rate and an earlier age than those of previous generations. According to the LGBT Movement Advancement Project, adults aged 30-54 are 16 times more likely to be closeted than those under 30.

In pop culture, the fine arts, the entertainment industry, and in some individual sports, it's now commonplace for luminaries to be out as gay or lesbian. But in many other fields, the dynamics are different.

Aside from Ride, no other astronaut of any nation has come out as gay. No active player in the four major North American pro sports leagues — football, basketball, baseball, hockey — has come out as gay, though some retired players have done so. Ken Mehlman came out as gay only after he completed his stint as chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Back in 2002, baseball star Mike Piazza — then playing with the New York Mets — rebutted rumors by holding a news conference to declare, "I'm not gay." Queen Latifah, the hip-hop star and actress, has countered comparable speculation over the years by refusing to discuss her personal life.

According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign, a national gay-rights group, 51 percent of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual workers hide their sexual identity to most or all of their fellow employees. Citing those findings, gay-rights activists have been pushing, so for in vain, for Congress to outlaw workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Fred Sainz, the Human Rights Campaign's vice president for communications, said his initial reaction to the revelation about Sally Ride was, "What a shame that we didn't learn this while she was alive."

"However, the fact it was acknowledged in death will be an incredibly powerful message to all Americans about the contributions of their LGBT counterparts," Sainz said. "The completeness of her life will be honored correctly."

Ride's sister, Bear Ride, a lesbian who has been active in gay-rights causes, e-mailed a supportive explanation of Ride's choice.

"She was just a private person who wanted to do things her way," she wrote. "She hated labels (including 'hero')."

Carolyn Porco, a prominent planetary scientist and leader of the imaging team on NASA's Cassini mission to Saturn, met Ride many years ago when she was an astronaut candidate, already steeped in the NASA mindset of reserve and self-effacement.

"Following her career all these years, she struck me as a woman of impeccable class, and it doesn't surprise she wanted to keep her private life private," Porco said. "I don't think it's anyone else's business, and I'd love for us all to get to the place where it doesn't matter anymore."

CAPTION

That's been a common theme in the commentary about Ride's relationship — a hope that American society will someday reach a point where being gay or lesbian is no more noteworthy than being straight.

Sarah Blazucki, editor of Philadelphia Gay News, said that day has not arrived.

"It's still important to come out, because we're not post-gay yet," she said. "When we do have full equality, then it's a different story."

She expressed respect for Ride's choices, but also regret.

"In the long run, everyone in the LGBT community and those who will follow benefit from someone coming out," Blazucki said. "It's sad that she felt she had to wait."

Another gay journalist, widely followed blogger Bil Browning, said the revelation about Ride left him with mixed feelings.

"I wish that she had come out while she was alive," he said. "The statement that would have been sent to young lesbians across the country would have been like Obama's election was to African-American kids."

On the other hand, he acknowledged generational differences and said Ride was entitled to her privacy.

"The activist in me thinks it's a missed opportunity," Browning said. "But she did the right thing at the end."

Some of the same issues involving privacy and openness surfaced in early July when CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, after years of reluctance to go public about his personal life, confirmed that he is gay.

Cooper wrote in an online letter that he had kept his sexual orientation private for personal and professional reasons, but eventually decided that remaining silent had given some people a mistaken impression that he was ashamed.

"I hope this doesn't mean an end to a small amount of personal space," Cooper wrote. "But I do think visibility is important, more important than preserving my reporter's shield of privacy."

Two days later, there was another revelation: fast-rising R&B star Frank Ocean announced on his Tumblr page that his first love was a man.

"I don't have any secrets I need to keep anymore," Ocean wrote at the end of his post. "I feel like a free man."

INFO ON THE WRITER
David Crary can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP

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