Kathryn Sullivan was born on October 3, 1951, in Paterson, New Jersey, but considers Woodland Hills, California to be her hometown. She graduated from Taft High School in 1969. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1973, and a Doctorate in Geology from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia in 1978.
Much of Dr. Sullivan’s efforts prior to joining NASA were concentrated in academic study and research. In 1971, she was an exchange student at the University of Bergen, Norway. Her doctoral studies at Dalhousie University included participation in a variety of oceanographic expeditions, under the auspices of the U.S. Geological Survey, Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the Bedford Institute. She conducted research on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the Newfoundland Basin, and fault zones off the Southern California Coast. Dr. Sullivan later became an oceanography officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve, holding the rank of lieutenant commander. She also earned a private pilot’s license in both powered and glider aircraft.
Selected by NASA on January 16, 1978, Kathryn Sullivan became an astronaut in August 1979. Her shuttle support assignments included: software development; launch and landing lead chase photographer; Orbiter and cargo test, checkout and launch support; extravehicular activity (EVA) and spacesuit support crew for several flights; and Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control for numerous Shuttle missions. A veteran of three space flights, Sullivan was a mission specialist on STS-41G and STS-31, and payload commander on STS-45. All of her missions were launched from Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida.
Since joining NASA, Dr. Sullivan’s research interests have focused on remote sensing. She was a co-investigator on the Shuttle Imaging Radar-B (SIR-B) experiment, which she flew on STS-41G, her first mission. STS-41G Challenger flew into Earth-orbit on October 5, 1984. On October 11, Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space when she and Mission Specialist David C. Leestma successfully conducted a three and a half hour EVA to demonstrate the feasibility of actual satellite refueling. STS-41G completed 132 orbits of the Earth in over 197 hours before landing at KSC on October 13, 1984.
In March 1985 she was appointed to the National Commission on Space and helped produce its report, entitled “Pioneering the Space Frontier,” laid out goals for U.S. civilian space activities over the next 25 years. In 1988, she was named the Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel.
Dr. Sullivan returned to space aboard STS-31, launched on April 24, 1990. During the mission, the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and conducted a variety of mid-deck experiments involving the study of protein crystal growth, polymer membrane processing and the effects of weightlessness and magnetic fields on an ion arc. They also operated a variety of cameras, including both the IMAX in-cabin and cargo bay cameras, for Earth observations from their record-setting altitude of 380 miles. After 76 orbits of the Earth in 121 hours, STS-31 Discovery landed at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on April 29, 1990.
Kathryn Sullivan was next payload commander on STS-45 Atlantis, launched on March 24, 1992. This was the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth. During this mission, the crew operated the twelve experiments that constituted the ATLAS-1 (Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science) cargo. ATLAS-1 obtained a vast array of detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties, which will contribute significantly to improving our understanding of our climate and atmosphere. In addition, this was the first time an artificial beam of electrons was used to stimulate a man-made auroral discharge. The Atlantis landed safely at KSC on April 2, 1992, after 143 orbits in eight days and 22 hours.
In her three shuttle missions, Dr. Sullivan logged 532 hours in space. She retired from NASA in August 1992, to become Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She next served as President and CEO of the COSI, an interactive science center in Columbus, Ohio. Kathryn Sullivan was later a science advisor to COSI before becoming an Adjunct Professor of Geology at The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
From 2000 to 2003, Sullivan was a member of the Pew Oceans Commission, whose nationwide study and subsequent report, “America’s Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change,” called for immediate reform of U.S. ocean laws and policies to avert the decline of ocean wildlife and collapse of ocean ecosystems. In 2003, Dr. Sullivan was appointed Chair of the Ohio Aerospace and Defense Advisory Council. She became a member of the National Science Board in November 2004.
A captain in the Naval Reserve, Kathryn Sullivan has won many honors, including Aviation Week & Space Technology Aerospace Legend Award (2005); Astronaut Hall of Fame (2004); Public Service Award, National Science Board (2003); Juliette Award for National Women of Distinction, Girl Scouts USA (2002); Ohio Veteran’s Hall of Fame (2001); Lone Sailor Award, U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation (1997); NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership (1992); AIAA Haley Space Flight Award (1991); AAS Space Flight Achievement Award (1991); NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1988 & 1991); and two NASA Space Flight Medals (1984 & 1990).