Female astronaut shares shuttle tales

March 31, 1998|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. - Former astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan said when crew members aboard space shuttles get tired they literally drift off to sleep.

Sullivan, a veteran of three space shuttle flights, ended Shippensburg University's Women's History Month observance Tuesday night by speaking to faculty and students in Memorial Auditorium.

Sullivan, who was born in 1951, was selected from a field of 6,500 to be in the first class of space shuttle astronauts. She was among the first six women in the program.

She flew on three shuttle missions beginning in 1984. On her second flight, she became the first American woman to walk in space when she helped repair a camera on the Hubble space telescope. Her final flight was in 1992.


She said the giant rockets that carry space shuttles to orbit have 7 million miles of thrust. It takes 8.5 minutes from launch to orbit.

"It's like going zero to 2000 in 60 seconds. There's a lot of shake, rattle and rolling going on. And it's loud, loud for 81/2 minutes," she said. "You know you're going somewhere."

She described weightlessness in the command capsule. Crew members sometimes entertain themselves by yanking a glass of water downward, leaving the liquid suspended in a ball of water. They play air hockey by blowing the ball of water to each other, she said.

The same is true when sleeping. Any position works.

"You become a particle drifting in the atmosphere," she said.

In 1988 she was commissioned in the Naval Reserve so she could work in oceanography and the military space program. As chief scientist, Sullivan is in charge of planning the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's research programs.

She pioneered the way for women scientists during her postdoctoral work in oceanography when she was named a crew member on deep submersible scientific submarines.

When she entered the field, women were not allowed on the same ship that carried the submarines, she said.

Later, when women were finally allowed aboard the ships, they were not allowed to cross a chalk line on the fantail.

"It was supposed to be bad luck," she said.

Women scientists have made significant ground in the male-dominated field of science, she said. Later this year, she said, a woman will command a space shuttle flight for the first time.

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