By Exploristics Senior Statistician, Sofia Kanavou (she/her)
Following the Pride celebrations scheduled throughout the United Kingdom in July, Exploristics, is paying tribute to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) individuals and their significant contributions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The focus of our tribute is the story of Sally Ride, the first female American astronaut to have flown into space and a member of the LGBTQ+ community whose work has had profound impact on our world.
She pursued her studies in physics and English literature before joining NASA’s Astronaut Group 8 in 1978, immediately after completing her doctorate at Stanford University. Group 8 was the first class to include women astronauts and Sally Ride was the first and the youngest woman to receive a flight assignment in 1983 aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Prior to that, she had also served as a spacecraft communicator (CAPCOM), responsible for all direct communications between the space crew and mission control, on earlier missions. Ride later helped in the development of the first robotic arm and accumulated more than 300 hours in space throughout her career. She left NASA in 1979.
In early 2000, she co-founded Sally Ride Science with Tam O’Shaughnessy, a company established to promote science programs and STEM-related educational initiatives primarily to upper elementary, middle and high school students, particularly young girls. Ride also co-wrote children’s books about space with O’Shaughnessy and dedicated her life to advocating for girls and women in STEM. It was only publicly revealed in her obituary, following her passing in 2012, that Tam O’Shaughnessy had been her life partner for over 25 years.
Sally Ride was identified as the first LGBTQ+ astronaut in history and has been honored posthumously in various ways. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama and in 2022, her image was featured on a quarter (U.S. currency). On July 4th of this year, a statue of Sally Ride was unveiled outside the Ronald Reagan Presidential library and museum in Los Angeles, as part of a series of monuments focused on notable women, designed by filmmaker Steven Barber.
Through the celebration of Sally Ride’s achievements, we aim to recognize the invaluable contributions of LGBTQ+ individuals in STEM and inspire future generations to pursue their passions fearlessly.