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From Out of This World. . . To Under the Sea

What’s it like to explore the unknown? Meet Kathy Sullivan—a history-making astronaut and deep-sea diver. Buckle up as she takes you along for the ride!  

acharyahargreaves/Shutterstock.com (Left Bknd); © Museum of Flight/Corbis via Getty Images (Challenger); irin-k/Shutterstock.com (Ball); Oliver Denker/Alamy Stock Photo (Right Bknd); Tamara Stubbs (Submarine); Xinhua/Alamy Stock Photo (Seabed); Space Frontiers/Archive Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Sullivan)

Sullivan in her real astronaut training gear!

Reaching High

In 1984, Sullivan became the first American woman to walk in space.

NASA Image Collection/Alamy Stock Photo

That's her!

    What does it feel like to leave Earth and blast into space? Ask Kathy Sullivan. She did it three times—on the space shuttle Challenger

    It starts with a low rumble as the engines start up. “It’s like a giant is pushing on the back of your chair,” she says. It’s similar to the force you feel at the bottom of a roller coaster. Only it lasts for more than 8 minutes. 

    At first, the ride is rough. It feels like you’re sitting in the middle of an earthquake. Under your seat, engines burn tons of rocket fuel. Little explosions push the shuttle faster by the second. 

    Then suddenly, the giant’s hand is gone. Blue turns to black outside the window. Pencils and papers float around in zero gravity. 

    Welcome to outer space.

    What does it feel like to blast into space? Ask Kathy Sullivan. She’s done it three times. Each time, she was on the space shuttle Challenger.

    It starts with a rumble. That’s the engines starting. “It’s like a giant is pushing on the back of your chair,” she says. It feels like being at the bottom of a roller coaster. But it lasts more than 8 minutes. 

    The ride is rough at first. It’s like you’re in the middle of an earthquake. Engines burn rocket fuel. Little explosions push the shuttle up. It goes faster by the second. 

    Then the giant’s hand is gone. What you see outside turns from blue to black. Pencils and papers float around in zero gravity. 

    Welcome to outer space.

    Want to know what it feels like to leave Earth and blast into space? Ask Kathy Sullivan. She’s done it three times—on the space shuttle Challenger.  

    The trek begins with a low rumble as the engines flare up. “It’s like a giant is pushing on the back of your chair,” Sullivan says. The force is similar to what you feel at the bottom of a roller coaster—but it lasts more than 8 minutes. 

    At first, the ride is rough, as if you’re sitting in the middle of an earthquake. The engines burn tons of rocket fuel under your seat, and little explosions push the shuttle faster by the second. 

    Then suddenly, the giant’s hand is gone, blue turns to black outside the window, and pencils and papers float around in zero gravity. 

    Welcome to outer space.

A Dream Come True

    Sullivan was 33 when she first flew in space. But she’d been looking forward to the experience for a long time. As a kid, she watched Jacques Cousteau [zhahk koo-STOH], the deep-sea diver, on TV. She read about the first astronauts in Life magazine. “These guys are going all over the world, and they’re on ships and spaceships,” she says. “I wanted that kind of life.”

    This was in the 1960s. At the time, not many women worked as scientists or explorers. That never bothered Sullivan. Her parents told her to pursue whatever she loved. “If I was interested, I’d go explore it,” she says. “No one gets to edit your interests.”

    In 1978, Sullivan’s hard work paid off. NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) chose her as one of its first women astronauts. Six years later, she became the first American woman to walk in space. 

    Sullivan first went to space at age 33. It was a dream come true. As a kid, she watched Jacques Cousteau [zhahk koo-STOH] on TV. He was a deep-sea diver. She read about the first astronauts in a magazine. “I wanted that kind of life,” she says.

    This was in the 1960s. Most scientists and explorers were men. But that didn’t stop Sullivan. Her parents told her to pursue whatever she loved. “If I was interested, I’d go explore it,” she says. “No one gets to edit your interests.”

    Sullivan’s work paid off. In 1978, NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) hired her as an astronaut. Six years later, she became the first American woman to walk in space. 

    Sullivan was 33 when she went on her first space mission, but she’d been dreaming of making the journey for years. As a kid, she watched the deep-sea diver Jacques Cousteau [zhahk koo-STOH] on TV and read about the first astronauts in Life magazine. “These guys are going all over the world, and they’re on ships and spaceships,” she says. “I wanted that kind of life.”

    Back then, in the 1960s, few women worked as scientists or explorers. That didn’t stop Sullivan. Her parents encouraged her to pursue whatever she loved. “If I was interested, I’d go explore it,” she explains. “No one gets to edit your interests.”

    In 1978, Sullivan’s hard work paid off when NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) selected her as one of its first women astronauts. Six years later, she became the first American woman to walk in space. 

The View From Above

    The experience of visiting space was hard to forget. Being in orbit made Sullivan view our planet in a different way. “The Earth is like a big beach ball that you’re going around,” she says. “You can see a whole continent at once.”

    That made Sullivan understand how connected every part of the planet is. “We are all sharing this one home, this one little spaceship Earth,” she says. “We have to look at it as a place to cherish and a place to protect.” 

    From space, Sullivan saw the world in a new way. “The Earth is like a big beach ball that you’re going around,” she says. “You can see a whole continent at once.”

    She saw how connected everything is on Earth. “We are all sharing this one home, this one little spaceship Earth,” she says. “We have to look at it as a place to cherish and a place to protect.”

    Visiting space is not an experience Sullivan will ever forget. Being in orbit caused her to view our planet in a different way. “The Earth is like a big beach ball that you’re going around,” she says. “You can see a whole continent at once.”

    This perspective showed Sullivan how connected every part of the planet is. “We are all sharing this one home, this one little spaceship Earth,” she says. “We have to look at it as a place to cherish and a place to protect.”

Going Deep

Last summer, Sullivan traveled to the lowest part of the ocean.

Enrique Alvarez/EYOS Expeditions

The day of the big dive

    On June 7, 2020, Kathy Sullivan stood on a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Below her, there was nothing but water for 7 miles down. 

    Sullivan climbed into a submarine with her co-pilot, Victor Vescovo. Together, they started their journey. Within minutes, the deep blue of the ocean turned to black. The air in the sub grew colder, and the divers put on sweaters. Otherwise, it was hard to tell they were moving at all. “It was like a very quiet elevator ride,” Sullivan says.

    Only it wasn’t. Sullivan was about to make history. She became the first woman to visit the deepest part of the sea—the Mariana Trench.

    It was June 7, 2020. Kathy Sullivan was standing on a ship. She was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The water was 7 miles deep. 

    Sullivan got into a submarine. Her co-pilot was Victor Vescovo. They traveled toward the ocean floor. The deep blue of the ocean turned to black. The air in the sub grew colder. The divers put on sweaters. Otherwise, it was hard to tell they were moving. “It was like a very quiet elevator ride,” Sullivan says.

    Sullivan was about to make history. She became the first woman to visit the Mariana Trench. That’s the deepest part of the ocean.

    On June 7, 2020, Kathy Sullivan was in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, standing on a ship. Below her was nothing but water for 7 miles down. 

    Sullivan climbed into a submarine with her co-pilot, Victor Vescovo, and they began their journey. Within minutes, the deep blue of the ocean turned to black. The divers put on sweaters as the air in the sub grew colder. Otherwise, there were hardly any signs that they were moving. “It was like a very quiet elevator ride,” Sullivan says.

    Only it wasn’t. Sullivan was about to make history as the first woman to visit the deepest part of the sea—the Mariana Trench.

Mystery of the Deep

    The Mariana Trench is a deep canyon in the ocean floor. It’s about halfway between Japan and Australia. Only about 10 people have ever made it to the bottom. 

    Vescovo and Sullivan’s job was to help make a map of the ocean floor. “We know more about the moon and Mars than we do about the deep sea,” Sullivan says.

    Why is it so hard to explore the Mariana Trench? You can answer that question with one word: pressure. At the bottom of the ocean, 7 miles’ worth of water presses down on you. 

    A normal sub would crack under the strain. But Vescovo had his built to handle it. The walls are 3.5 inches thick and made of superstrong metal. 

    This allowed both divers to relax on the four-hour trip down. They even snacked on tuna fish sandwiches! “Lunch at 31,000 feet below sea level,” Sullivan says. “Doesn’t everybody do that?”

    The Mariana Trench is a deep canyon in the ocean floor. It’s between Japan and Australia. Only about 10 people have been to the bottom of it. 

    Vescovo and Sullivan were helping to make a map of the ocean floor. “We know more about the moon and Mars than we do about the deep sea,” Sullivan says.

    Why is it hard to explore the Mariana Trench? The answer is: pressure. At the bottom of the ocean, 7 miles of water presses down on you. 

    A normal sub would crack. But Vescovo’s sub was built to handle it. The walls are 3.5 inches thick. They are made of a very strong metal. 

    So both divers could relax. They even ate tuna fish sandwiches! “Lunch at 31,000 feet below sea level,” Sullivan says. “Doesn’t everybody do that?”

    The Mariana Trench is a deep canyon in the ocean floor, about halfway between Japan and Australia. Only about 10 people have ever made it to the bottom. 

    Vescovo and Sullivan had descended deep into the ocean’s waters to help map the ocean floor. “We know more about the moon and Mars than we do about the deep sea,” Sullivan points out.

    Why is exploring the Mariana Trench so difficult? That question can be answered in just one word: pressure. At the bottom of the ocean, 7 miles’ worth of water presses down on you. 

    A normal sub would crack under the strain, but Vescovo had his sub built to handle it. The walls—made of an extremely strong metal—are    3.5 inches thick. 

    So, during the four-hour trip down, both divers were able to relax. They even snacked on tuna fish sandwiches! “Lunch at 31,000 feet below sea level,” Sullivan says. “Doesn’t everybody do that?”

Searching for Life

    Sullivan and Vescovo spent an hour and a half cruising the ocean floor. At first, it looked dead. But soon Sullivan saw signs of life. See-through sea cucumbers floated past the ship. Tiny bristle worms poked out of the sand. 

    To her, it was as fascinating as a walk in space. 

    Sullivan and Vescovo spent an hour and a half at the ocean floor. At first, it looked dead. But soon Sullivan saw signs of life. Sea cucumbers floated past the sub. Tiny bristle worms poked out of the sand. 

    For Sullivan, it was as fascinating as a walk in space. 

    For an hour and a half, Sullivan and Vescovo cruised the ocean floor. At first, it appeared to be dead, but soon Sullivan spotted signs of life. See-through sea cucumbers floated past the ship. Tiny bristle worms poked out of the sand. 

    To her, it was as fascinating as a walk in space. 

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