Simanaitis Says

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I’VE BEEN AT 30,000 ft. in jetliners and 282 ft. below sea level at Death Valley’s Bad Water Basin in a car. However, Kathy Sullivan’s achievements make me look neighborhood-bound indeed.

Her adventures are described by Heather Murphy in “First American Woman to Walk in Space Reaches Deepest Spot in the Ocean,” The New York Times, June 8, 2020. Here are tidbits gleaned from this article and my usual Internet sleuthing.

Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan, New Jersey-born 1951, American geologist, NASA astronaut, 2017 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum, Senior Fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies. Portrait from U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A Geologist by Training. Dr. Sullivan earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Earth Sciences from the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1973 and a Ph.D. in Geology from Canada’s Dalhousie University in 1978.

As noted in Wikipedia, “While at Dalhousie, she participated in several oceanographic expeditions that studied the floors of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. In 1988, Sullivan joined the U.S. Naval Reserve as an oceanography officer, retiring with the rank of captain in 2006. She was stationed in Guam.”

Sullivan’s Space Shuttle Orbit Heights. In 1978, Sullivan was part of the first U.S. astronaut group to include women. In 1984, she was the first American woman performing an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) in space.

Astronaut Kathlyn Sullivan checks SIR-B antenna during STS-41-G. Image from NASA.

This was on October 11, 1984, during the Space Shuttle Challenger STS-41-G mission. The EVA with fellow mission specialist David Leestma lasted 3 1/2 hours.

Sullivan also served on the crew of STS-31 and was Payload Commander on STS-45. Altogether, she logged 532 hours in space.

Space Shuttle altitudes range from 190 miles to 330 miles above Earth. The International Space Station orbits at an altitude of 254 miles.

To put Sullivan’s altitude achievements in perspective, airliners cruise at around 5.7 miles above Earth.

The Hadal Depths. Hadal depths are named for Hades, the Greek god of the Underworld. See Ben Taub’s “Thirty-Six Thousand Feet Under the Sea,” The New Yorker, May 10, 2020, for details of reaching these depths, particularly the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench in the Western Pacific.

Image by I, Kmusser from Wikipedia.

As described in Wikipedia, “The Challenger Deep is the deepest known point in the Earth’s seabed hydrosphere (the oceans)….”

Sullivan’s Hadal Adventure. Heather Murphy writes in The New York Times, June 8, 2020, “On Sunday [June 7, 2020], Kathy Sullivan, 68, an astronaut and oceanographer, emerged from her 35,810-foot dive to the Challenger Deep…. This also makes Dr. Sullivan the first person to both walk in space and to descend to the deepest point in the ocean.”

It is an interesting tidbit that the Moon has been visited more than the Earth’s hadal depths.

Kathy Sullivan and Victor Vescovo after their dive into the Challenger Deep. Image by Enrique Alvarez in The New York Times, June 8, 2020.

Sullivan was accompanied in her hadal adventure by Victor L. Vescovo, whose Five Deeps expedition has reached the deepest points of all five of Earth’s oceans.

Their craft was the Triton 36000/2 DSV Limiting Factor.

DSV Limiting Factor. Its two occupants ride in the spherical portion. Image from

Florida-based Triton manufactures a range of submersibles capable of exploring from moderate depths (1000 ft.–1650 ft.) to those like the DSV Limiting Factor capable of reaching the oceans’ deepest points.

Murphy writes, “Sullivan and Vescovo spent about an hour and a half at their destination, seven miles down in a muddy depression in the Mariana Trench, which is about 200 miles southwest of Guam…. Upon returning to the ship, the pair called a group of astronauts aboard the International Space Station, around 254 miles above Earth.”

Dr. Sullivan likely found special career satisfaction in this achievement at the Challenger Deep, only 200 miles away from Guam (where Sullivan served as an oceanographic officer in the U.S. Naval Reserve). Distance from home, I suspect, has different meaning to Dr. Sullivan than it does to the rest of us. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020

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