Kathryn Sullivan, former astronaut and the first woman to walk in space, spoke about her experiences at NASA, serving as president and CEO of COSI Columbus and other milestones during a Feb. 19 appearance at the Bexley Public Library.
In a conversation with current COSI CEO Frederic Bertley that was presented by Bexley's Gramercy Books, Sullivan read from her new memoir, "Handprints on Hubble: An Astronaut's Story of Invention" and shared how she became an astronaut.
Sullivan said she joined NASA and became an astronaut in 1978 in the company of the five other female astronauts, including Sally Ride, who became the first female space crew member on the shuttle Challenger's 1983 STS-7 mission.
"We knew what talents and skills we brought to the table. We knew there was a huge learning curve ahead of us ... but we were ready to take that on," Sullivan said of her female astronaut peers. "We knew that it mattered how well we did."
Sullivan's first space flight was aboard Challenger for the Oct. 5-13, 1984, STS-41G mission.
During that endeavor, Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space when she and mission specialist David Leetsma completed a 3 1/2-hour walk to demonstrate how satellites could be refueled in orbit.
She described the intensive preparation leading up to the launch and how she felt when she finally made it to space.
"I feel like I'd laid a brick sidewalk, brick by brick. I knew exactly how come I got here and yet it's just incredibly amazing to be (in space) and mind-boggling that you feel so natural," Sullivan said of her historic spacewalk. "I felt in orbit like I feel here (on the ground), except floating above that sphere called the Earth."
Sullivan said she welcomed challenges throughout each phrase of her career.
A Patterson, New Jersey, native, Sullivan received a bachelor's degree in earth sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a doctorate in geology from Dalhousie University. She earned the rank of captain in the U.S. Navy Reserve and was appointed president and CEO of COSI in 1996.
In 2006, Sullivan became the director of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University. She later served as acting administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and acting undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere during President Barack Obama's administration from 2013-17.
"This makes you like one of two people out of 7.7 billion who have actually been up in the heavens and to the deepest depths of the oceans and then controlled one of the largest ocean and atmospheric agencies in the world," Bertley said of Sullivan's career.
Sullivan said her favorite professional experience was her tenure at NOAA.
"Almost every day, I was watching all of the lessons and experiences I'd had as an astronaut, as a naval officer, running COSI and getting to put them into fresh practice and see them crystalized in a new form," she said. "It was a neat re-encapsulation. It was kind of like watching your life over again."