Kathryn Sullivan, the first American woman to walk in space on October 11, 1984, now also becomes the first woman to reach the deepest point of the ocean, the Challenger Deep, at the southern end of the Mariana Trench. She also became only the eighth person ever to reach the Challenger Deep.

Kathryn Sullivan, the first woman to reach the Challenger Deep

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan becomes the first woman to reach the Challenger Deep
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan becomes the first woman to reach the Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the world’s oceans. Image: Kathryn Sullivan

On June 7, 2020, Sunday, Kathryn Sullivan traveled on an expedition aboard the Triton Submarines DSV Limiting Factor to the bottom of the Challenger Deep (see notes 1) at the southern end of the Mariana Trench, the deepest known point in the ocean, becoming the first woman to reach the deepest known point in the ocean and the first person to travel to both Challenger Deep and to space.

While Sullivan’s vessel at the bottom of the deepest point of the ocean, a call was made between the vessel and astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The call was an homage to her other historic adventure when she became the first American woman to walk in space on October 11, 1984.

Dr. Sullivan was accompanied by Victor L. Vescovo during her journey, an explorer funding the mission. They spent about an hour and a half at the deepest point of the ocean.

On her website, Dr. Sullivan published a post titled “Success!” on June 7 and said “Journey to the bottom of the Challenger Deep – and back.”

Kathryn Sullivan

Kathryn Sullivan in her NASA uniform
Kathryn Sullivan in her NASA uniform

Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan was born on October 3, 1951, in Paterson, New Jersey. She was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1973, and a Ph.D. in Geology from Dalhousie University in 1978.

She was awarded a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1973, and a Ph.D. in Geology from Dalhousie University in 1978. She participated in several oceanographic expeditions that studied the floors of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans while at Dalhousie.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan joined NASA in 1978 and was part of the first astronaut groups to include women. She became an astronaut in August 1979 and performed the first spacewalk (extra-vehicular activity, EVA) by an American woman during Space Shuttle Challenger mission STS-41-G on October 11, 1984. Sullivan and mission specialist David Leestma performed a 3.5-hour spacewalk in which they operated a system designed to show that a satellite could be refueled in orbit.

Kathryn Sullivan on October 11, 1984 Spacewalk
Kathryn Sullivan on October 11, 1984 Spacewalk – Astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan checks the latch of the SIR-B antenna in the space shuttle Challenger‘s open cargo bay during her historic extravehicular activity (EVA) on Oct. 11, 1984. Earlier, America’s first woman to perform an EVA and astronaut David C. Leestma participated in an in-space simulation of refueling a spacecraft in orbit. The Orbital Refueling System (ORS) is just beyond the astronaut mission specialist’s helmet. To the left is the Large Format Camera (LFC). The LFC and ORS are stationed on a device called the Mission Peculiar Support Structure (MPESS). Crew members consisted of astronauts Robert L. Crippen, commander; Jon A. McBride, pilot; along with Kathryn D. Sullivan, Sally K. Ride, and David D. Leestma, all mission specialists; and Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau and Paul D. Scully-Power, both payload specialists. Image: NASA

Kathy Sullivan is a veteran of three shuttle missions and a 2004 inductee to the Astronaut Hall of Fame.

In 1993, Dr. Sullivan left NASA to accept a Presidential appointment to the post of Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Here she oversaw a wide array of research and technology programs ranging from climate and global change to satellites and marine biodiversity.

From 1996 to 2006, she served as President and CEO of COSI (Center of Science & Industry) in Columbus, Ohio. Under her leadership, COSI strengthened its impact on science teaching in the classroom and its national reputation as an innovator of hands-on, inquiry-based science learning resources.

She then served as the inaugural Director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy in the John Glenn School of Public Affairs at The Ohio State University.

Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was confirmed by the Senate as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator on March 6, 2014, having served as Acting NOAA Administrator since February 28, 2013.

In November 2019, Sullivan’s book Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention was released from MIT Press. ”Handprints on Hubble” recounts Sullivan’s experience as part of the team that launched, rescued, repaired, and maintained the Hubble Space Telescope.

Notes

  1. The Challenger Deep is the deepest known point in the Earth’s seabed hydrosphere (the oceans), with a depth of 10,902 to 10,929 m (35,768 to 35,856 ft) by direct measurement from deep-diving submersibles, remotely operated vehicles and benthic landers and (sometimes) slightly more by sonar bathymetry. It was discovered by the H.M.S. Challenger, a British ship that sailed the globe from 1872 to 1876 and named after the ship.

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