While there are thousands of astronauts, many of them have not been open about their sexuality.
Ride, who recently passed away, was revealed to be a lesbian in the obituary of her organization’s website. They wrote that she survived by Tam O’Shaughnessy, her “partner of 27 years.”
Now, she is expected to serve as a role model for the LGBT community. “I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them,” said her sister, Bear Ride.
But why did she choose to keep her sexuality private? According to Michael Cassutt, human spaceflight author, coming out before recent years would have been “a career-wrecker” for an astronaut. “Not for any formal reason, but in the same way that any medical issue or even some kind of notoriety has been an astronaut career-wrecker,” he said. “Any issue that detracts from the mission is or has been the kind of thing an astronaut wants to avoid. It isn’t NASA politics; it is NASA politics as practiced at the astronaut office.”
A NASA spokesman, however, said that it is up to the astronauts what they choose to reveal about their lives. “Certainly we try to be open with their professional activities and beyond that what they reveal privately is pretty much up to them,” he said.
However, 219 of the 330 current and former astronauts served in the military, according to NASA. The U.S. military operated under a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy from 1993 until 2011, under which gay and lesbian military workers were to keep their sexuality private or be expelled.
Last year, the policy was revealed and now members of the LGBT can openly serve in the U.S. military.
Will Sally Ride pave the way for other LGBT astronauts?