Award Federal Widow Benefits to Sally Ride’s Partner

Target: NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden

Goal: Award Sally Ride’s partner Tam O’Shaughnessy widow benefits traditionally given to astronauts’ spouses.

Recently, the nation mourned the death of astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space. An inspiration to thousands, Ride passed away after a 17-month battle with pancreatic cancer, leaving behind her mother, sister, nephew, and niece as well as her partner of over two decades, Tam O’Shaughnessy. However, despite their longstanding partnership, O’Shaughnessy’s name has barely been mentioned in news coverage of Ride’s death. More to the point, there has been little to no mention of the fact that O’Shaughnessy will not be receiving the benefits that the State traditionally grants to astronauts’ widows on account of being technically unmarried to her partner.

O’Shaughnessy and Ride had been together for 27 years at the time of Ride’s death, and had known each other for years before, since they were both only 13. They demonstrated a devotion to life and each other that many straight married couples can only hope to aspire to. Yet because federal law defines marriage as existing only between one man and one woman under the Defense of Marriage Act, O’Shaughnessy will not receive the same treatment in the wake of her partner’s death that any other astronaut’s spouse would after their death. Ask NASA’s head administrator Charles Bolden to demand that the federal government reward O’Shaughnessy with the same benefits that are traditionally awarded to astronauts’ widows regardless of the fact that she and Ride were technically unmarried.


Dear Charles F. Bolden,

The nation stands today in mourning of astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space and a role model to many. She made two trips aboard the space shuttle Challenger and went on to a massively successful career as a physicist at the University of California. She continued pursuing her passion for space until the day she died, and was an inspiration to many young girls and women who might never have pursued successful careers in math, science, and technology without her as a model. Upon her death, she has been mentioned and celebrated by many in the news and elsewhere. What has been less widely publicized is her 27-year partnership to Tam O’Shaughnessy, a woman whose devotion to space exploration and knowledge matched Ride’s and whose devotion to Ride cannot be put into words. Yet because O’Shaughnessy and Ride were technically not married, and because the State continues to define marriage as existing only between one man and one woman, O’Shaughnessy will not receive the benefits that the federal government traditionally grants to astronauts’ widows.

In memory of Sally Ride, I am asking you to take a stand and demand that the federal government grant the same benefits to O’Shaughnessy that they would grant to any other astronaut’s spouse regardless of the fact that they were technically unmarried. Ride and O’Shaughnessy’s devotion to one another was clear and outstanding, and it is only right that that devotion be honored the same way the devotion of a straight married couple would be.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Flickr via Diorama Sky

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