New York: At 32, Sally Ride burst onto the public stage when NASA chose her to be America's first woman in space. Ride inspired women the world over with her historic shuttle flight into space in 1983 and for blazing into NASA's exclusively male astronaut club.
But despite being in the headlines regularly, America's first woman astronaut Sally ride was an intensely private person. Until her death, it was not known that this national hero had been battling Pancreatic cancer for 18 months or that she was gay.
In an obituary on her website, Sally Ride publicly ousted herself as homosexual for the first time, naming her partner of 27-years as Tam O'Shaughnessy. The obituary simply noted, "Ride was survived by "Tam O'Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years," her mother, Joyce Ride; her sister Bear Ride; and a niece and a nephew."
According to Sally ride's family, the decision to come out now was a considered one. Her sister Bear Ride said, "I hope it makes it easier for kids growing up gay that they know that another one of their heroes was like them."
It was only last year that President Obama signed a bill repealing the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy that said homosexuals could not openly serve in the U.S. military.
On Twitter, from Tom Hanks to Katie Couric, many paid their respects. Ride's death is one of those rare moments where even politicians across divides are in agreement.
President Obama released a statement saying, "As the first American woman to travel into space, Sally was a national hero and a powerful role model. She inspired generations of young girls to reach for the stars and later fought tirelessly to help them get there by advocating for a greater focus on science and math in our schools. Sally's life showed us that there are no limits to what we can achieve and I have no doubt that her legacy will endure for years to come."
Sarah Palin tweeted "Sally Ride was an inspirational trailblazer for American women. We're all grateful for her example. She will be greatly missed."
However, some also voiced concern that Ride's partner of 27 years would be denied federal benefits because the couple was not legally married.
Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney who says he unequivocally opposes "marriage between people of the same gender," has especially come in for criticism on Twitter.
One Twitter post asks: "Romney said Sally Ride is "among the greatest pioneers"-can someone ask if he's glad her partner of 27 yrs is denied her fed benefits? #DOMA."
After retirement, Ride used her high-profile position to champion scientific causes and to motive women, setting up an organisation to promote science and math for girls. In death too, she was no different.