Former NASA astronaut Kathy Sullivan has become the first person to both walk in space and to descend to the deepest known point on Earth, after making an 11-kilometre ocean dive to the Challenger Deep on Sunday.
Sullivan, 68, was the first American woman to walk in space in 1984 and has now become the first woman to dive to the deepest point in the ocean – where only eight people have ever been.
Sullivan spent about an hour and a half at her destination with fellow explorer Victor L. Vescovo, capturing images from the Limiting Factor, a specially designed deep-sea research submersible.
The pair then spent roughly four-hours ascending and upon returning to their ship, they called a group of astronauts at the International Space Station, about 408 kilometres above earth.
“As a hybrid oceanographer and astronaut this was an extraordinary day, a once-in-a-lifetime day,” Sullivan said about the experience.
“Seeing the moonscape of the Challenger Deep and then comparing notes with my colleagues on the ISS about our remarkable reusable inner-space, outer-space craft.”
“We made some more history today… and then got to share the experience with kindred spirits in the ISS,” Victor Vescovo said. “It was a pleasure to have Kathy along both as an oceanographer during the dive, and then as an astronaut to talk to the ISS.”
Just back up from Challenger Deep! My co-pilot was Dr. Kathy Sullivan – now the first woman to the bottom of the ocean and a former astronaut as well as NOAA Administrator! Big congratulations to her! This was my 3rd time to the bottom. Well done by the crew, Triton, and EYOS.— Victor Vescovo (@VictorVescovo) June 7, 2020
“It was amazing to set up a conversation between two spacecraft; one operating as a platform for research in outer space, the other an exploration vehicle for ‘inner space’,” said Rob McCallum, from EYOS Expeditions, who coordinated the call.
“Two groups of humans using cutting edge technology to explore the outer edges of our world. It highlighted the vast span of human endeavour while at the same time linking us close together as fellow explorers.”
Sullivan joined NASA in 1978, as a member of the first group of US astronauts to include women. She flew in three shuttle missions in the 1980s and 1990s and was inducted into he Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2004.
Sullivan left NASA in 1993 to become chief scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.