Sally Ride, the late first American woman in space, wouldn’t be happy about NASA’s new administrator, her partner of 27 years said Monday.
Tam O’Shaughnessy told the Washington Blade that Ride would be “shaking her head” over Jim Bridenstine, whom the U.S. Senate confirmed last week as head of NASA by a party-line vote of 50-49.
“I think Sally would have been shaking her head in dismay during the Senate confirmation vote last week,” O’Shaughnessy said. “She would have been skeptical about Jim Bridenstine serving with honor as NASA administrator.”
The cause of concern for Ride, O’Shaughnessy said, would be both his anti-LGBT record and statements denying climate change — a subject NASA has studied in the past.
“His public record shows he is anti-science based on his misinterpretation and misrepresentation of global climate change,” O’Shaughnessy said. “And his public statements show that he does not believe in social justice based on his views of marriage equality for same-sex couples.”
A three-term member of Congress who earned a “0” from the Human Rights Campaign on its most recent scorecard, Bridenstine has co-sponsored legislation against same-sex marriage and called the U.S. Supreme Court ruling against the anti-gay Defense of Marriage Act “a disappointment.”
In 2013, when the Boy Scouts of America lifted its ban on gay youths, Bridenstine delivered a speech on the House floor in opposition to the change, suggesting LGBT people are immoral.
“The left’s agenda is not about tolerance, and it’s not about diversity of thought,” Bridenstine said in 2013. “It’s about presenting a worldview of relativism, where there is no right and wrong, then using the full force of the government to silence opposition and reshape organizations like the Boy Scouts into instruments for social change.”
On the issue of climate change, Bridenstine has denied that human actions are responsible for increasing global temperatures.
“I would say that the climate is changing,” Bridenstine said in a 2016 interview. “It has always changed. There were periods of time long before the internal combustion engine when the Earth was much warmer than it is today.”
Both those viewpoints, O’Shaughnessy said, would have been unacceptable to Ride for someone as administrator of NASA.
“Sally believed NASA should study our home planet just as it studies the rest of the solar system — and educate the public about how human activities like burning fossil fuels are changing the air, making the global climate warm,” O’Shaughnessy said. “Sally also valued people from all walks of life and all ways of living and loving.”
Ride, an American physicist and astronaut, joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space in 1983 as a crew member on space shuttle Challenger. She took part in a second space flight in 1984 and spent a total of more than 343 hours in space.
Upon her death in 2012, Ride revealed in her obituary O’Shaughnessy had been her partner for more than 27 years — outing herself as a member of the LGBT community.
O’Shaughnessy noted Ride’s achievements as evidence NASA has broken ground for women and LGBT people over the course of its history.
“NASA has made huge strides since 1978 when Sally became one of 35 new astronauts, including the first six women, to embrace diversity and inclusion no matter one’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity,” O’Shaughnessy said.
O’Shaughnessy, an American children’s science writer and former professional tennis player, co-founded with Ride the science education company known as Sally Ride Science, which re-launched in 2015 as a non-profit. In 2013, O’Shaughnessy accepted the Medal of Honor from then-President Obama on behalf of Ride, who had posthumously awarded it to the late astronaut.
Despite the concerns O’Shaughnessy predicted Ride would have about Bridenstine, O’Shaughnessy said her late partner would also give him room to change now that he’s administrator of NASA.
“Though skeptical, Sally would give Jim Bridenstine the benefit of the doubt to show — through his words and actions — that he can lead NASA into a future based on solid science, exciting space exploration and an equitable work environment,” O’Shaughnessy said.