Dr Kathryn Sullivan

Scientist, Astronaut, Explorer

Dr Kathryn Sullivan is an accomplished scientist, astronaut, author, executive and an intrepid explorer who has built a career breaking ground and pushing the boundaries of the status quo.

In 2020, she became the first person to experience both space travel and visiting the ocean’s floor. Guinness World Records has confirmed she now holds 3 titles: First woman to reach the Challenger Deep; Greatest vertical extent travelled by an individual (within Earth’s exosphere); First person to visit space and the deepest point on Earth.

As a young child, Sullivan was fascinated by maps and her enthusiasm for exploration led her to study foreign languages, earth sciences and oceanography.

After studying, Sullivan applied to NASA and was part of the first intake of female astronauts in 1978. In 1984, Sullivan embarked on her first mission ‘STS-41-G’ where she became the first American woman to walk in space. She went on to take part in two more missions, including the 1990 launch of the Hubble Space Telescope. She logged a total of 532 hours in space and was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.

Upon leaving NASA in 1993, Sullivan served as Chief Scientist at NOAA (the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and in 2014 was confirmed by the US Senate as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and as NOAA’s Administrator.

In this role, Sullivan made significant contributions to the global GIS technology landscape and her understanding of the importance of gathering and disseminating geospatial data about our natural world has helped highlight opportunities for urgent action against climate change to bolster the resilience of our societies and economies.

In June 2020, Sullivan travelled to the deepest known point in the ocean – the Challenger Deep – which is roughly 11km below sea level. The Challenger Deep has only been reached a handful of times in history and Sullivan was the first woman to venture there.

Sullivan is a GIS enthusiast and has spoken at a number of Esri events including giving the Keynote address at the 2017 Esri Ocean GIS forum where she discussed how GIS is helping scientists uncover the causes and consequences of rising sea temperatures, and that the data needs to be accessible and actionable so that people can prepare and adapt.

Dr Kathryn Sullivan joined the Directions with Stan Grant podcast to share her experiences as one of NASA's first female astronauts and NOAA's Chief Scientist and Administrator.

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