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Women Explorers: Dr. Kathryn Sullivan

The vantage point that space offers us is so powerful for understanding the planet as a whole—I felt a growing desire to be one of the players who helped extract useful information… that could actually help us take better care of Earth and human society.

Former NASA astronaut and the first American woman to walk in space

The first American woman to walk in space

To paraphrase that famously iconic line, Kathryn Sullivan has literally ‘boldly gone where few women have gone before!’ Her storied career—as a geologist, a former NASA astronaut, and a NOAA scientist—has taken her from the far reaches of outer space to the bottom of the world’s oceans. Get Inspired By Photos, Videos, Webinars, Stories, And Exclusive Offers. Sign Up


In 1984 on her first of three space shuttle missions Kathy received one of the most coveted assignments for an astronaut: a space walk. She spent 3.5 hours outside the ship working on an experiment designed to show that a satellite could be refueled in orbit. To this day Kathy is one of only 217 people in the world—and the first American woman—to have earned this extraordinary honor. She shares more about her work in space in her book Handprints On Hubble, which was published in late 2019, just ahead of the 30th anniversary of Hubble in orbit.

Seeing Earth from such a powerful vantage point only fueled Kathy’s lifelong desire to understand how and why our planet works and the implications and consequences of how we are living on it. After leaving NASA she held an array of prestigious posts including vice chair of the National Science Board and a dual role as NOAA administrator and undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere.

Most recently Kathy has traveled aboard National Geographic Explorer as a Global Perspectives Guest Speaker. She shared her planetary perspective through fascinating presentations on topics like the New Space Age and the Emerging Arctic. Joining our expeditions gave her a chance to quench her never-ending thirst to explore and learn—as a trained earth scientist she was thrilled to experience the High Arctic’s unique geology and to be in the presence of Precambrian rocks, some of the oldest on earth. It also allowed her to watch our undersea program in action. Kathy was an early catalyst in the creation of this unique element found on all Lindblad voyages—and she was excited to see how it has come to life and evolved over the years.

We asked Kathy Sullivan:

Why do you explore?
I explore because I’m curious—about people, landscapes, history, culture, nature and more.


What is your favorite Lindblad Expeditions destination?
My favorite destination is aboard any Lindblad ship. Second favorite has to be Antarctica.


What is the dream exploration you haven’t done…yet?
Mars is my un-done dream expedition.


Name a female hero and why.
My biggest hero is my mother, who instilled the curiosity and confidence in me to be the explorer she would have loved to be herself, if the times had allowed.

What advice would you give the next generation of women explorers?
Dream big, stay curious, and work hard. And never stop learning and improving yourself.

What would people be surprised to know about you?
That if you add how deep I’ve been in the ocean to how high I’ve flown in space, I’m the most vertical girl in the world!