Defying Gravity, Part 3

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 third was astronaut Kathryn C. Thornton.

Astronaut Kathryn C. Thornton, on the end of Endeavour’s Remote Manipulator System (RMS) arm, hovers over equipment associated with servicing choreson the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) during the second space walk on the eleven-day STS-61 mission. Credit: NASA/ESA
Kathryn C. Thornton (Ph.D.), NASA Astronaut (missions STS-33, STS-49, STS-61, STS-73). Credit: NASA

Kathryn C. Thornton

Kathryn Thornton logged an impressive 975 hours in space, including 21 hours spent on EVAs, on four space flights as a mission specialist. Her first spacewalk was from the Space Shuttle Endeavor on STS-49, where she and her crewmates tested assembly techniques that would later be used to construct the International Space Station (ISS). Thornton’s second and third spacewalks were also from Endeavor as part of the Hubble Space Telescope servicing and repair mission.

Up until 2006, Thornton held the record for the most spacewalks performed by a woman.


“It is time to go beyond low-earth orbit with humans as explorers and to focus on Mars and beyond as our goal.” – Kathryn C. Thornton, from The University of Virginia Magazine.


On this sixth day of the STS-73 sixteen day mission, the crew Cmdr. Kenneth Bowersox, Pilot Kent Rominger, Payload Specialists Albert Sacco and Fred Leslie, and Mission Specialists Kathryn Thornton, Catherine ‘Cady’ Coleman, and Michael Lopez-Alegria are shown performing several of the spaceborne experiments onboard the United States Microgravity Lab-2 (USML-2). From the NASA STI Program.


Astronauts Kathryn C. Thornton (top) lifts the Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement (COSTAR) prior to its installation on the Hubble Space Telescope on December 8, 1993. Astronaut Thomas D. Akers (below) assists with the installation. Credit: NASA