Kathryn D. Sullivan: From Outer Space to Submarines


To most people, Kathryn D. Sullivan is best known for her years at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). After all, she was selected as one of the first group of six female astronauts for the United States in 1978. She is a veteran of three space shuttle missions, including the flight where she performed the first extra activity. -Vehicle (EVA) by an American. wife and participated in the mission that launched the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) into space.

View of Astronaut Kathryn D. “Kathy” Sullivan, wearing a blue flight suit, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (OV-103) in zero gravity during Space Shuttle Mission STS-31, 24 to April 29, 1990. (Smithsonian Institution, NASM- 9A19277)
Official NASA group portrait of the crew assigned to the Space Shuttle mission STS-41G. Seated left to right: Jon A. McBride, pilot; Mission Specialists Sally K. Ride, Kathryn D. Sullivan and David C. Leestma. Standing in back, left to right, are Paul D. Scully-Power, payload specialist; Robert L. Crippen, crew commander; and Marc Garneau, Canadian Payload Specialist. The replica of a gold astronaut’s lapel pin in the lower left signifies unity. July 24, 1984. (Smithsonian Institution, NASM-9A19276)

Beyond her years as an astronaut, Sullivan also ventured into many other areas of work and study. She is a trained scientist with a Ph.D. in geology. In addition, she has carried out extensive oceanographic research on the bottoms of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. She also served in the United States Naval Reserve (USNR) first as a lieutenant commander and eventually as a captain. His duties with the United States Navy included commanding a unit of oceanographers and meteorologists based at Naval Air Station Dallas.

Official half-length portrait of Kathryn D. Sullivan in the uniform of a Captain in the United States Naval Reserve (USNR), circa 2006. Background includes United States Navy and United States flags from America. (Smithsonian Institution, NASM-9A19278)

Sullivan’s public service extended beyond NASA and the USNR. In 2011, the Obama administration nominated her, and the US Senate confirmed her, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observing and Prediction and Deputy Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In addition, beginning in early 2013, she served as NOAA’s Acting Administrator. The following year, she was confirmed by the Senate as Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and concurrently, as Administrator of NOAA. She remained in these positions until early 2017.

Invitation from the US Department of Commerce to the swearing-in ceremony of Kathryn D. Sullivan as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), July 12, 1993. (Smithsonian Institution, NASM-9A19279)

Sullivan also served as President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Center of Science and Industry (COSI) in Ohio. Under his leadership, COSI has strengthened its impact on science education in the classroom, as well as its national reputation as an innovator of hands-on inquiry-based science learning resources. Additionally, Sullivan was selected for the 2017 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History Fellowship, at the National Air and Space Museum (NASM) at the Smithsonian Institution. While at the museum as a fellow, she focused her research energies on the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). Based on this research, Sullivan wrote his book, Handprints on Hubble: the story of an astronaut’s inventionreleased in 2019.

In 2020, she ventured aboard a specially equipped submarine to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, becoming the first woman to reach the deepest known point in all the oceans. of the earth. Additionally, she became the first person to travel to both Challenger Deep and aboard the Space Shuttle, Challenger (and then, Discovery) in outer space. Additionally, late that year, Sullivan was appointed as a volunteer member of President-Elect Biden’s Presidential Transition Agency Review Team to help facilitate transition efforts related to the Commerce Department. In 2021, President Biden appointed her to the President’s Advisory Council on Science and Technology. As evidenced by her busy life and multiple careers, Sullivan is certainly a true renaissance woman.


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