Defying Gravity, Part 2

The gURLs who Spacewalk

Spacewalking astronauts are big right now thanks to a certain blockbuster movie full of A-List Hollywood Stars. In preparing for her role in Gravity, actress Sandra Bullock turned to real-life astronaut Cady Coleman for advice about what life in space is really like. But the big screen is obviously nothing like the real thing.

Stepping outside of a spacecraft that is orbiting our planet at speeds of thousands (and thousands) of miles per hour is a frightening prospect. So who are the brave women that have actually performed this heroic work in real life?

To this day, eleven women have made the journey. The second was astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan.

Astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan checks the latch of the SIR-B antenna in the space shuttle Challenger’s open cargo bay during her historic extravehicular activity (EVA) on Oct. 11, 1984. Credit: NASA
Member of the Astronaut Hall of Fame (2004), Kathryn D. Sullivan. Credit: NASA

Kathryn D. Sullivan

Months after Svetlana Savitskaya stepped into space, Kathryn D. Sullivan became the first woman to perform and EVA for the United States. On October 11, 1984, Sullivan dangled her feet out of the Space Shuttle Challenger on the STS-41-G mission. The mission was also the first to carry a crew of seven, the first to carry two women (Sullivan and Sally Ride), and the first for a Canadian astronaut (Marc Garneau).

During her three and a half hour EVA, Sullivan demonstrated that it was feasible to refuel a satellite in orbit.

In total, Sullivan flew on three missions aboard the Space Shuttle and logged 532 hours in space. Later, she became an oceanography officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve and then served as chief scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In February of 2013, she became the Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and Acting NOAA Administrator.


"It’s one of the great delights and memories for me . . . I felt like I was seeing, woven together, the power and scale of the entire world." – Kathryn D. Sullivan, from the New Mexico Museum of Space History.


In this video from the University of California, Kathryn Sullivan talks about her perspectives of science and education as an astronaut, oceanographer, and educator.


Astronauts Kathryn D. Sullivan, left, and Sally K. Ride display a "bag of worms" during the STS-41G mission in 1984. The bag is a sleep restraint and the majority of the ‘worms’ are mostly springs and clips used with the sleep restraint. STS-41G was the first flight to include two women. Credit: NASA