Dr. Kathy Sullivan: Going Where No Woman Had Gone Before

Oct 2, 2017

Dr. Kathy Sullivan hadn’t planned to go to space. The former astronaut went to school to study earth sciences, later earned a doctorate in geology. She worked as an oceanographer, but decided to apply to be an astronaut for the chance to see Earth with her own eyes and not through lenses.

Sullivan became an astronaut in 1979 and flew three Space Shuttle missions, becoming the first American woman to walk in space on a 1984 mission. It was adventure, Sullivan says, that led her to apply to NASA. “What I remember vividly thinking and feeling... was how incredibly cool it was that some people had that kind of adventure in their everyday life," she explains. "It was the work they did.”

Sullivan describes her spacewalk [known as an Extravehicular Activity] as extraordinary. It was, “a fabulously free feeling of movement, and of course quite a coveted and very special experience to be looking at the earth sliding beneath you with no window frame. It’s really you looking at the Earth, straight-out, that’s pretty spectacular stuff,” she says.

Dr Kathy Sullivan's book.
Credit Charlesbridge Publishing

Sullivan went on to be the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. But most recently, she wrote a children’s book, called To the Stars! The First American Woman to Walk in Space. Sullivan notes that even if her young readers don’t follow precisely in her footsteps, she hopes they get her central message.

“There’s nothing that should stop them from dreaming about the boldest goal they might have in their mind at that moment and finding how close to that goal they can get with good hard-work and some good fortune.”

Dr. Kathy Sullivan will talk about her career at a sold-out event at the UWM Union on Wednesday evening.