As of 2016, only 60 women have been to space, just over 10% of total travelers. At NASA, it took nearly 20 years for them to select the first women astronauts. One of the women in that class of 1978 was Shannon Lucid, who went on to set records and establish several “firsts” of her own.
Because her parents were missionaries, Lucid was born in Shanghai, China but spent most of her childhood in Oklahoma. She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, then a master’s and doctorate in biochemistry at the University of Oklahoma, finishing her studies in 1973. She held many jobs during this time, including senior laboratory technician, chemist, and research associate before being selected as an astronaut and joining NASA.
In June of 1985, Lucid left Earth for the first time aboard the Shuttle Discovery on mission STS-51-G. She would participate in four more missions over the next eleven years, with her fifth and final flight being STS-76 in 1996 when the Shuttle Atlantis took her to the Mir space station.
The only American woman to live on Mir, Lucid spent 188 days aboard and set the record for longest mission aboard Mir for any American. Her return was delayed twice, adding an unexpected six weeks onto the trip. But Lucid has said she “really and truly enjoyed living and working in space for an extended period of time.”
In total, she spent over 223 days in space, which was an international record for most days spent in orbit by a woman until 2007. She also held the record for the longest single flight by a woman until 2006.
In 2002, Lucid was appointed NASA’s chief scientist, and served in that role for a year before returning to the Johnson Space Center and her work at the Astronaut Office. She also served as capsule communicator in the Mission Control Center for many years.
Lucid was the first woman to be awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and has been inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame and the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame.
After thirty years at NASA, Lucid retired in 2012. Fellow astronaut Peggy Whitson said that Lucid was “a model astronaut for long-duration missions” and that she “always brought a smile to our faces.”
Written by Mary Ratliff