Tam O'Shaughnessy, Partner of Astronaut Sally Ride, On 27 Years of Love | Human Rights Campaign
And I found it so comforting, it was really interesting. So I'm actually thinking of joining a tennis club and just hitting. Because it's really a big part of me, and I hadn't realized how much I missed it until Sally died.
Sally was the first American female astronaut in space, but she was such a private person.
It seems like she didn't really let that accomplishment go to her head. You mean kind of being absorbed by her celebrity? She was able to keep herself a human being, a normal person that everyone could relate to; she was very quiet. How did that work? But at the same time what Sally loved was a very normal life.
She liked doing all that stuff herself. So I think it was just her nature. And one of them was it sort of made us immune to celebrity.
This Pride, Be Inspired by Sally Ride's Legacy
Because as kids we were around famous people, like Rod Laver … I don't know if you know these tennis players, but the best tennis players in the world. What was one of the major life lessons you can recall from that time frame? And then as soon as you lose, they don't really … you're dropped.
It taught us, and it taught Sally, to not take celebrity too strongly. It comes and goes, so make sure that what you care about, what you believe in, and who you are, are solid things. That's a really great lesson. And it makes sense.
Now I understand that when you went to the White House to accept Sally Ride's posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom recently, you were there along with Sally's family. Were they always accepting of your relationship? Sally never verbally, openly told her mother, her father, or her sister, Bear, that she was gay and that we were a couple.
So over the almost three decades, I was really part of the Ride family. And her mother is very progressive. Sally easily could have told her a long time ago, and Joyce Ride would not have cared, she would not have blinked. But it just shows how strong Sally's sense of privacy was, and also I think fear. Her mother actually turned 90 the day before the Medal of Freedom ceremony, so we had a big party at the Willard Hotel that we were all staying in.
We had a really good time and, actually, Joyce Ride had made friends with Gloria Steinem at Sally's first launch in and Gloria came to the birthday party. And we had fun. Well, that's what it's all about.
At the end of the day it's all about family. How about your family, then? Were they accepting of your relationship with Sally? Did they know about it?
And the circuit was very close-knit and, of course, some of the women were gay, many others were not. And so I immediately, next time I was home, took my mother out for Mexican dinner and told her I was gay. I don't think she really liked it, but she never said anything bad or … we basically never talked about it again. I told them and they were … they wanted to try to understand, and they quickly did, and it was kind of no big deal.
When I told my family it was the mids, but they had already lived through the '60s, so I think that helped. Let's talk about Sally Ride Science. What was the starting point of the foundation? It actually kind of evolved.
Talking with Sally Ride and Tam O’Shaughnessy
And then after her first flight, of course for a while, she was the most famous person on earth and gave tons of talks. And she'd see that same … just that teachers and kids, parents, CEOs … the light would go off in their eyeballs when she'd talk about looking back at earth from space and floating weightless and floating grapes into the mouths of the other astronauts, and all these fun stories. And Sally realized she could use space as a way to motivate and inspire teachers and kids and science.
And she also knew that she really felt like her life got made because she majored in science and physics. And it taught her to think for herself, be able to critically evaluate things about her community, about her own health, whatever. And so she didn't understand why kids didn't really like science, why they weren't good at it, why the scores were horrid.
And she kind of started getting into it. And what was your focus at this time? They couldn't get the gist of the information, so it's sort of like what's going on here? We've got to help kids at a very young age stay excited about science and really want to do the work to understand science concepts. We just started talking about science education in our country and we just talked about it.
And then we started writing children's science books together. How did the desire to release children's books together come to light? That kind of grew out of that same interest that both of us had, which was we loved to go to bookstores, and we'd look at the science section, but also science fiction, biographies, nutrition, whatever, we just loved book stores.
But what we noticed in the mids was that the science section had like three books in it, and the non-fiction was much slimmer than the fiction for kids. And then we'd pick up science books for kids, and they just weren't very good. Isaac Asimov wrote great children's science books. Anyway, we just thought, "Maybe we can do this. Our science writing worked really well and we just loved working on these books. And out of all of this, Sally Ride Science was born? And this program has been going for 19 years now and it's still going.
But that turned out to just be a really exciting educational program with mission control for undergraduate students at UCSD and they did all the programming and so on for the camera on the shuttle and then the space station. But then the middle schools from around the country would send their selections to UCSD mission control, they would get relayed to NASA, to real mission in Houston, and then transmitted up to the space shuttle and later the space station, and the camera would get programmed, the photos that were selected by students would get snapped, and everything would get relayed backwards to UCSD and out to the schools.
Similarly, kids ask us a lot about global warming because, and year-olds want this information. They are dragging the rest of us into the twenty-first century. Planet Earth you include information about regions all over the world and how they are being impacted by changes in the environment. What age group do you envision as your intended audience? Nine through 13 is the target audience. The last page of Mission: Planet Earth issues a direct call to action and makes a clear statement about taking responsibility.
We think it is important to raise the level of discourse and to start appreciating the importance of science and the role that science can play.
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If they want to make an impact or become part of the solution, there are several different things that they can do and ways they can go about it. One is by becoming a scientist or an engineer to help solve these problems. Or by understanding enough science to become the next science reporter or science illustrator, or simply to make knowledgeable decisions about how they live in their community.
What do you hope resonates with readers of this book? I hope that readers get the big picture, the gist of how all the parts of Earth work together. What I want kids to take away from this book is appreciating that climate change is real.
You can probably see it wherever you live if you look hard enough. We all need to start doing something now! While you were writing Mission: Planet Earth, had you also planned to write Mission: Planet Earth first, which took a lot of time figuring out what to include, what to leave out, and how to integrate the different pieces.
Then we brainstormed with Simon and decided that we should do a companion book. All along they were going to be the same size and look similar, like a two-book set.
Was there anything you learned about climate change as a result of writing these books? I learned a lot about discoveries related to the effects of climate change on biological processes. Part of that is because I am a physicist, a physical scientist.
Tam has the biology background. When writing the early drafts of the book, we split up the areas where we each had expertise. At the same time, we were reading newspapers every day.
I was struck by how much impact global warming is having all over the planet and by how many people were investigating particular ecosystems in their corner of the world. As the months went by, stories appeared daily. Since information about climate change is changing minute by minute, do you anticipate new editions of the book?
Planet Earth is well received, it may require a second, third, or fourth edition. There is definitely going to be new information, so some things will need to be updated.
What hope do you both have for the planet in and beyond? What worries you the most and what gives you the most awe? I waver from being too negative to feeling very hopeful and positive.
Tam O'Shaughnessy - Wikipedia
What terrifies me is that the oceans are changing so much. They are becoming warmer and more acidic. What is happening to the polar bears and the walruses just breaks my heart. Sally and I have discussions and debates about what is going to happen.
We need to get cracking here. Actually, one thing I learned from writing the books is that there are tons of things we can do. Getting people to put weather strips up would save gobs of CO 2 from going into the air.
Right now it is a positive, encouraging time because we have a new president who believes in action and doing things about climate change. People really are creative, caring, innovative go-getters.
Sally often reminds me of how quickly President Kennedy united the country over the space program. I have hope that people will be inventive and come up with solutions. Just taking steps, even the simple ones like conserving energy and doing what you need to do in your own home and in your own community, will have an impact.
I am fundamentally an optimist, which is a good thing to be right now. I believe that if people start acting and taking climate change seriously, we can slow it down, turn it around, and have something that looks like the planet that we have all come to know and love.
It might be possible to do something—try some experiment to help solve things—that could actually throw the whole system off, and we might have trouble recovering from it. We have to start working on and developing technologies, and then deploying these technologies.
And we need to focus on the science to keep learning more and more.