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Google Doodle Honors Sally Ride, First American Woman (and Lesbian!) in Space

Google Doodle Honors Sally Ride, First American Woman (and Lesbian!) in Space

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Google's doodle pays homage to the first female NASA astronaut, who was revealed to be lesbian following her death.

Space pioneer Sally Ride would have turned 64 today, and Google devoted its daily doodle to honor America's first woman astronaut and only known gay space traveler.

Ride broke barriers her entire life as well as upon her death from pancreatic cancer in 2012, when it was revealed publicly that she had a partner of 27 years, Tam O'Shaughnessy.

"Sally Ride and Tam O'Shaughnessy became friends at the age of 12 when they both played tennis," according to an article on Ride's website. "While their lives took different paths, they stayed in contact over the years." Ride went on to Stanford University and NASA, while O'Shaughnessy became a professional tennis player, then earned degress in biology and psychology and became a science teacher. She worked with Ride on six books -- Voyager, The Third Planet, The Mystery of Mars, Exploring Our Solar System, Mission Planet Earth, and Mission Save the Planet.

As the doodle's animator, Olivia Huynh, explained in a short video (watch below), Ride first worked at NASA as a physicist and later became an educator, reaching millions of children -- especially girls and minority students -- to give them the message that they too could have a career in science.

Born in Los Angeles in 1951, Ride obtained degrees in physics and English before applying to become a NASA astronaut in 1977; it was the first time NASA allowed women in the space program. Ride wasn't out, given government fears that gays represented security risks posed by potential blackmail situations. She was actually married to a fellow astronaut, Steven Hawley, during part of her time with NASA.

Ride was chosen to be an astronaut in 1978, and on June 18, 1983, she rode the space shuttle Challenger into low earth orbit as the first American woman to go into space. Ride was part of another Challenger mission the following year, but her third trip on that reusable spaceship was canceled after the deadly 1986 explosion that killed seven astronauts, including teacher Christa McAuliffe. Ride led the commission that investigated that disaster and helped NASA rewrite its policies in hopes of avoiding another tragedy.

She retired from NASA in 1987, eventually becoming a college professor in California, where she started Sally Ride Science in 2001 to encourage young people and especially girls to enter fields related to science and technology.

"Once a young girl asked her what it was like to be weightless in space," her life partner, Tam O'Shaughnessy, said in the short video.

"Sally asked the students to imagine that suddenly gravity was not holding them down. The students were mesmerized. Now imagine floating up out of your seats, bumping into each other and rising to the ceiling. Sally encouraged the same freedom in their lives and inspired them to pursue what they loved and change the world by doing so," O'Shaughnessy said.

"Studies show that the reason kids turn away from STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is not that they don't like it or aren't good at it," O'Shaughnessy wrote in a blog post for Google. "Instead, young people get turned off because society sends false messages about who scientists are, what they do, and how they work. So Sally decided to use her high profile to motivate young people to stick with their interest in science and to consider pursuing STEM careers."

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