Selected by NASA in the first class of female astronaut candidates, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was officially named an astronaut in August of 1979 and her first space flight launched in October 1984. This eight-day mission included deployment of the Earth Radiation Budget Satellite and a demonstration of the feasibility of actual satellite refueling during a three and a half hour extravehicular activity where Sullivan became the first American woman to go on a “spacewalk.”
Six years later she was part of the crew of the Space Shuttle Discovery mission that deployed the Hubble Space Telescope and conducted scientific experiments on protein crystal growth and polymer membrane processing.
For her final space flight she was the payload commander aboard the first Spacelab mission dedicated to NASA’s Mission to Planet Earth. As part of the crew, she conducted experiments using the ATLAS-1 that gathered vast amounts of detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties. Upon returning to Earth, Sullivan had spent more than 532 hours in space over the three missions.
Leaving NASA in 1993, Sullivan was appointed as Chief Scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) where she was responsible for the oversight of a wide array of technology programs and research ranging from satellites to climate to marine biodiversity. After a few years at the administration she spent some time in the private education sector and academia but was asked to returned to NOAA in a larger leadership position.
Confirmed by the U.S. Senate and appointed by President Obama, Dr. Sullivan was named as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator for NOAA in 2011, she was responsible for directing administration and NOAA priority work in the areas of water services, climate science and services, and Earth-observing capabilities.
In early 2013 she was asked to serve as Acting Under Secretary and then confirmed by the Senate as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator in 2014. As part of her current duties she is the United States Co-chair of the Group on Earth Observations.
Written by Angela Goad