History’s First Gay Astronaut
Sally Ride made history as America’s first woman in space on 18th June 1983. However, it was only after her death that it became known that she was gay.
There were institutional reasons why Ride, a Ph.D. in astrophysics, decided not to come out of the closet during her lifetime. She was just 32 she when to went to space.
During her stint at NASA, she was part of many firsts.
• She was the first woman to use the robot arm in space
• She was the first to use the arm to retrieve a satellite
• On her second flight, the Challander, she spent more than 343 hours in space
• This flight was also historical in the sense that it was the first flight to include more than one woman. Ride was accompanied by Kathryn D. Sullivan
Why is STEM so straight?
According to a study conducted undergraduate students who identify as LGBTQ are less likely to continue their STEM majors¹. Obviously, since these students drop out of STEM and do not go to graduate schools, we see fewer LGBTQ faculty and the vicious cycle continues. This results in a very weak support system for students identifying as sexual minorities.
NASA was no exception to this during Ride’s time there. Both NASA and the US military operated on “don't ask, don't tell” ( DADT) policy up until 2011. This meant gay servicemen and women had to remain in the closet or risk expulsion.
61% of the astronauts selected by NASA have come from military service². Things were even worse for military personnel — apart from the DADT policy, the conservative nature of military heritage combined with the tacit stress on manliness made it difficult for service personnel to come out.
US astronauts all train in Houston Texas, where up until 2003 sodomy laws remained in books.