First US space woman Sally Ride hid sexuality over employment fears

Amy Ashenden

The first ever female American to go to space, Sally Ride, hid her sexuality over fears it would hinder employment opportunities.

Going into space on the Challenger shuttle in June 1983, Ride also made history as the youngest ever American to do so.

Ride passed away in 2012, when her 27-year relationship with female partner Tam O’Shaughnessy was made public. They wrote a series of children’s books together to promote interest in science in younger generations. When Ride died at the age of 61, O’Shaughnessy became CEO of company Sally Ride Science.

She said: ‘We never publicly said “we’re gay” … we didn’t like labels of any kind, but especially the ones referring to sexuality: queer, lesbian, homosexual.’

She continued: ‘Corporate America is really nervous about gay women.

‘When we started Sally Ride Science, we were just worried that it would affect the growth of the company, the sponsorships.

‘We both lived through Billie Jean [King]’s horrors, of being gay and being in the public eye. And we both were afraid it would hurt the business. So we elected to be private about it.’

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The former NASA astronaut worked hard to keep her sexuality hidden.

‘She was very good at keeping secrets,’ said journalist Lynn Sherr, author of a new biography of Ride.

‘There is no question in my mind that if Sally Ride had been openly gay and if she had applied to NASA, number one, she never would have been selected as an astronaut.

‘Number two, she never would have flown and number three, she never would have been the first American woman in space.’

About Amy Ashenden

Freelance journo currently on my Year Abroad in Madrid, and blogging it at BA French and Spanish at the University of Southampton, Editor of, and previous intern at g3 magazine and Pink News. Proud freelancer for BBC South East.