07/24/2012 07:30 EDT | Updated 09/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Astronaut Sally Ride comes out posthumously

In life Sally Ride was known as the first American woman to enter space, but upon news of her death it has been revealed she was a trailblazer twice over; she was also the first lesbian astronaut.

Sally Ride, 61, died of pancreatic cancer Monday at her home in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla.

Ride was known as a private person, so details of her illness were not common knowledge until the time of her death. Likewise, an important part of her personal life wasn't made known until her obituary was posted on her website. Ride posthumously revealed her long-time partnership with a woman.

“In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.”

Ride's sister, Bear Ride — who identifies as gay — confirmed the news in her interview with BuzzFeed.

"The pancreatic cancer community is going to be absolutely thrilled that there's now this advocate that they didn't know about. And, I hope the GLBT community feels the same," 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."

In 1983, when Ride was 32-years-old, she rode on the space shuttle Challenger. After her flight, more than 42 other American women flew in space, NASA said.

According to a spokesperson from Sally Ride Science, Ride's company that provides educational materials and programs to schools, there had not been any published admission about Ride's sexual orientation.

Bear Ride said that was due to her sister's nature as a private person — even withholding information about her illness to the public — and confirmed her sister, who did not choose to use labels, never hid her relationship with O'Shaugnessy from friends and family.