News that Sally Ride, the first American woman in space was a lesbian has become public only after her obituary was published, stating that Ride is survived by “Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years.”
While many may feel disappointed that the astronaut chose to keep her sexual orientation private, a 2008 article from Wired offers an explanation.
With over 450 people having flown into space, odds are there has been at least one gay person in space already, but the conservative nature of NASA and the military heritage of many of the astronauts may combine to make it difficult for astronauts to be open about their sexual orientation. Add to that that US astronauts all live and train in Texas, where sodomy laws remained on the books until 2003 (when a Supreme Court ruling forced Texas to take them out), and you can begin to get a sense of the atmosphere.
While some are declaring Ride “the first gay in space,” statistically, it’s likely that there are others that we simply don’t know about yet.