President Obama will give Sally Ride, the United States’ first woman (and lesbian) in space, the highest award for which a civilian is eligible. The Presidential Medal of Freedom, according to the White House, is awarded for “meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
In 1983, Sally made history when she boarded the Challenger space shuttle and explored the universe—the third woman ever to do so, the first from America, and the first lesbian in space. Sally was also the first woman to use the robot arm, which she used to retrieve a satellite. She was just 32 at the time. Following her career as an astronaut, Sally turned her attention to youth and young adults by teaching on the college level, advocating for educational initiatives, and working to get kids involved in the sciences.
Though Sally passed away in July of 2012 after living with pancreatic cancer for more than a year, her legacy continues to be honored and her work, to inspire generations to come. In addition to posthumously receiving the Medal of Freedom at the White House, NASA has created an internship program named after the pioneer that will enable disadvantaged youth to engage in research opportunities with NASA engineers and scientists. 10 students will get to participate each year. Given Sally’s dedication to making science stimulating and accessible to kids, these are true testaments to her character and passions.
Obama said in a statement about the award, "Sally showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve, and I look forward to welcoming her family to the White House as we celebrate her life and legacy.” He referred to her as “not just a national hero, but a role model to generations of young women.”
Sally was the woman behind many classes, books, and programs that united students with science. One such program she led was the International Space Station (ISS) EarthKAM, a camera on-board space crafts that allows people—especially elementary and middle school aged classrooms—to learn about space and request pictures of what the camera sees. Now, NASA recently renamed the program “Sally Ride EarthKAM.”
In 2012, GLAAD called for the media to allow Sally her due spot in history as the first LGBT person in space. By collaborating with More Light Presbyterians, the pro-LGBT faith-based advocacy organization, GLAAD’s Religion, Faith & Values team was able to place an Op-ed in The Washington Post that provided readers with a nuanced portrait of Sally, her family, and their work towards LGBT equality.
Sally’s partner of 27 years, Tam O’Shaughnessy, will accept the Medal of Freedom on from the president on Sally’s behalf this Wednesday, November 20. Tam and Sally worked together for many years to get young girls interested in science through the Sally Ride Science, a company the women co-founded. Sally is also survived by her mother Joyce and her sister Bear, who, as a Presbyterian minister, has worked closely with More Light Presbyterians to guide the Presbyterian Church closer to LGBT equality.