Women in Geoscience Series

Hi all!

The countdown to our official launch on February 24th has officially begun! So, we thought what better way to celebrate than by showcasing a geologist who launched into space! Yes, the one and only Dr Kathyrn D Sullivan is our Women in Geosciences profile this month… a truly inspirational geoscientist who literally rocketed to success! Read on to hear all about the amazing career of Kathyrn D Sullivan….

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Dr Kathyrn D Sullivan

Known for?

First American woman to walk in space.

Sullivan’s Story:

Dr Kathyrn Sullivan was born in Paterson, New Jersey in October, 1951. After graduating with a Batchelor of Science in Earth Sciences from University of California, Santa Cruz in 1973 Sullivan earned her PhD in Geology from Dalhousie University in 1978. During her time at Dalhousie University, Sullivan participated in a number of oceanographic expeditions including cruises with the U.S. Geological Survey, Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Bedford Institute. Her research included the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and fault zones off the Southern California coast.

In 1978 Sullivan was selected by NASA and became an astronaut in 1979. On October 11, 1984 Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space during the Space Shuttle Challenger mission. O’Sullivan also served on the crew of the STS-31 which deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. In total the STS-31 completed 76 orbits of the earth in 121 hours before landing on April 29th, 1990.  In recognition for her “distinguished performance in the deployment of Hubble Space Telescope” Sullivan received the Haley Space Flight Award in 1991.

Dr Sullivan also served as Payload Commander on STS-45 which obtained detailed measurements of atmospheric chemical and physical properties. In 1985, Sullivan was appointed to the National Commission on Space and in 1988 was named the Chief of the Naval Operations Executive Panel. Sullivan left NASA in 1993 after logging 532 hours in space over three space shuttle missions.

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Never afraid of trying a new direction, Sullivan served as chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and as president and CEO of the COSI Columbus from 1996-2006 before then becoming Director for Ohio State University’s Battelle Centre for Mathematics and Science Education Policy. In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed Sullivan to the National Science Board. Sullivan joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as an oceanography officer in 1988, retiring with the rank of captain in 2006.

“From what I had seen within NASA at the time, even very capable women who I thought very highly of and respected quite a lot seemed almost never to get above deputy. They could do incredible work, save programs, you name it, and they’d be offered a lateral move to be somebody else’s deputy. There’d been one female Center Director for a brief tenure (JSC Center Director Carolyn L. Huntoon). I looked at that and said, “It looks to me like this is not yet an avenue where there’s high probability of leading a Center or leading a major program. It doesn’t look very likely.” Sullivan on her career choice after NASA.

In 2009, Sullivan began serving a three-year term as chair of the Section on General Interest in Science and Engineering for the American Association for the Advancement of Science before being appointed as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Predication, and Deputy Administrator for the NOAA by then President Obama in 2011. Sullivan was appointed, and later confirmed as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator in 2014.

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Dr Sullivan today, as Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Sullivan has received numerous awards and acknowledgements throughout her career including the NASA Medal for Outstanding Leadership (1992), AAS Space Flight Achievement Award (1991), NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1988, 1991), Juliette Award for National Women of Distinction, Girl Scouts of the USA (2002), Public Service Award from the National Science Board (2003), indicted into the Astronaut Hall of fame (2004), the Aviation Week and Space Technology Aerospace Legend Award (2005), and the Rachel Carson Award from the National Audubon Society for her environmental leadership. In 2015, Sullivan was awarded an honorary doctorate from Brown University for her “abundant contributions to science, education and the public good, and her ongoing commitment to improving the state of our planet for future generations”.

A truly legendary geologist and astronaut, Sullivan discusses her life and exploration career in her book “Looking at Earth: An Astronaut’s Journey”. We think we can all agree Sullivan is an inspiring role model for all women in STEM, particularly for geoscientists, and the perfect pick for the countdown to our launch… make sure to check back with us for some more amazing trailblazers every month!

Can’t get enough of Sullivan’s amazing career story? Check out the following sources for more reading:










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