Kathryn Sullivan, the astronaut who visited the deepest point in the ocean

Hyperaxion Jun 11, 2020

The first American woman to go into space, she also dived 11 kilometers into the Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean.

Former astronaut Kathryn Sullivan, 68, made history by becoming, in 1984, the first American woman to go into space. But she did not stop there: last Sunday (07), 36 years after that achievement, she also became the first woman to reach the Challenger Deep, the deepest point in the ocean.

Kathryn Sullivan, the astronaut who visited the deepest point in the ocean
Kathryn Sullivan was the first American woman to walk in space and the first woman to reach the deepest point in the ocean. (Credit: Flickr).

Challenger Deep is 11 kilometers (6.83 miles) deep in the Mariana Trench, near the Mariana Islands, in the Pacific Ocean. According to EYOS Expeditions, the company that coordinated the logistics of the mission, before Sullivan, only 7 other people went there.

Victor Vescovo, the explorer who financed the expedition, accompanied the scientist in this process. They went aboard the Limiting Factor, a submersible vehicle capable of capturing images of the seabed for research purposes.

The mission lasted approximately eight hours, and they spent about an hour and a half at their destination. In a Twitter post, Sullivan claims that inside the submersible the temperature was -5C° and the pressure was 1.1 ton.

“As a hybrid oceanographer and astronaut this was an extraordinary day, a once in a lifetime day, seeing the moonscape of the Challenger Deep and then comparing notes with my colleagues on the ISS,” said Sullivan, in a note.

Kathryn Sullivan and Victor Vescovo dived together into the Challenger Deep. (Credit: EYOSExpeditions).

Legacy

In 1978, Sullivan joined NASA as part of the first group of US astronauts to include women, staying at the agency for 15 years. In the meantime, she participated in three space missions, including the one responsible for installing the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990. With these missions, she spent a total of 532 hours in space.

Since she left the organization, the scientist has held various executive positions and devoted herself to her passion for the ocean, serving as an oceanographer in the U.S. Navy Reserve from 1988 to 2006. In 1993, she was appointed as chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a government department she managed between 2014 and 2017.

Kathryn Sullivan during a space walk in 1984. (Credit: Picryl).

To honor Sullivan for her work, several institutions have rewarded her, including the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Astronaut Hall of Fame, the WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame, the Women Divers Hall of Fame and the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame.

In 2019 she wrote a book called Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut’s Story of Invention, recounting her experiences with the Hubble Space Telescope deployment.

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