I’ve met only one astronaut, and that was Eileen Collins on Aug. 31, 2005, after she had been the commander of the Discovery space flight.
Many of us had seen live images of Discovery gliding to a graceful landing on terra firma, with Collins in control, and three weeks later for some reason or other she and her two colleagues were in Shea Stadium before a Mets game.
Given the crush of reporters, I talked to Collins only briefly – she had been a Mets fan as a girl in upstate New York – but I did get to chat with her husband Pat Youngs, a pilot for Delta. I learned he was a good amateur golfer, knew all about Mike Piazza's sore wrist, and was very proud of his wife.
A pilot who controlled jets packed with passengers displayed obvious awe for his life’s companion, who had taken a craft where he presumably would never go.
I thought of Eileen Collins and Pat Youngs the other day when I read the obituary for Sally Ride. I am not a big follower of space travel, but I did know the name Sally Ride.
Not only was she the first American woman (and third overall) in outer space, but she also had that felicitous name that seemed to come directly from the fertile mind of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., or Joseph Heller, if they had been writing a novel about a female astronaut. Ride, Sally Ride, indeed.
The obituary also contained a reference to a former husband and a subsequent "partner," Tam O’Shaughnessy. Since then, the media has pointed out that Ride was both a business partner and life partner of O'Shaughnessy, and that the couple was rather private about the relationship, as was their right.
However, we are in a time when that most public of officials, New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, likely the next mayor of the city, can don an apron for the Times and describe her restorative weekends on the Jersey shore with her now legal spouse Kim M. Catullo.
These days, Kim Catullo will be able to stand front and center if her spouse is inaugurated as mayor, the way Pat Youngs stood in front of the Mets dugout and watched his wife chat with the media horde.
Despite the judgments of Rep. Michele Bachmann and others on the religious right, more people are able to openly live the life they want. In that earlier time, one can only hope, Tam O’Shaughnessy never felt she had to cover up the pride she surely felt in being the life partner of Sally Ride.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.