Retired astronaut Katherine Sullivan, life is an exploration of everything that surrounds you.
As a NASA astronaut, she became the first American woman to travel to space. On Earth, she played a key role in the development of the Hubble Space Telescope, ensuring that future spacewalkers have the tools they need to fix the satellite’s instruments long after launch. And this summer she visited the deepest point of the ocean, Mariana Trench. (Her friends jokingly refer to her as “the woman who has her ups and downs,” she said.)
But research isn’t necessarily extremes, she stressed during a media event hosted by the Desert Research Institute.
“My life as an explorer began in [a] very small scales in our little backyard in northern New Jersey and in the pages of books, ”Sullivan said. – Exploring doesn’t always have to be about traveling to distant places. Learning really means turning curiosity into action. “
Connected: Katie Sullivan, the first American woman to be in space, made a spacewalk in which all women could
“Curiosity is another great attribute. Never be afraid to ask “why? “Or” I wonder how? ” or “what if I?” and pursues this question, “Sullivan said.” It’s not so much about knowing the answers, or looking for them, or looking for them. It’s really about learning to think and reason so that you can find answers to questions that, perhaps no one has ever asked before. “
During the event Sullivan compared her three missions in NASA spacecraft in the 1980s and 90s, with her recent underwater excursion dubbed The Limiting Factor. For her, the two extreme journeys were staggeringly different – although both required a vehicle that could protect the human body from pressures it could not otherwise withstand.
“Leaving the planet to go into outer space is an explosive event: it is very short, very intense, it only takes eight and a half minutes to go into orbit,” she said. “Leaving the surface of the Earth to descend to the bottom of the deep sea is much more peaceful, calm, smooth. It’s like a serene elevator ride. “
The view is also stunningly different, she said. “Of spaceshipyou can see about 1000 miles [1,600 kilometers] in any dimension from the altitude we flew, ”Sullivan said. “And in an underwater vehicle, you can only see as long as the lights you brought with you are on — and in deep, deep sea it’s usually about 30 feet,” or about 9 meters.
But even after visiting space and the ocean floor, Sullivan did not end his research. In particular, it follows NASA’s Mars. Persistence all-terrain vehiclewhich landed on the Red Planet in February with a small companion helicopter that will fly this month.
“A small part of me envies the Perseverance that it gets there and I don’t – actually on the surface of Mars, scratching the ground with my boot or sifting it through my gloved hand and taking the experience of being there,” Sullivan said. “Don’t just look at the impressive images of Perseverance; although they are impressive, I think we all know as humans it is one thing to look at someone for an impressive photo of a place or event, and it is another to be there and experience it. “
Based on science
For Sullivan, the importance of curiosity and exploration is not only about personal satisfaction; it is also the key for people, organizations and governments to navigate the current world.
“We all live our own lives that are related to science,” she said, arguing that people should strive to understand the basics of how natural and technological phenomena affect everyday life. “Why would you be a passive consumer who is like a traffic jam floating on the waves without real autonomy or freedom of action? Find out something about it so you can control your boat a little better. “
Participation in science is even more important for governments seeking to address the many interconnected challenges we face, she said, especially with the ongoing climate crisis, which President Joe Biden said will be a major challenge. priority for his administration…
“The best available science we have around the world is the right starting point, the best and most reliable starting point for the challenging decisions we will face as citizens, businesses and society,” Sullivan said.
“Science does not provide a complete answer or a definitive answer, but it does give you certain boundary conditions, certain constraints that you must take into account. And it certainly helps us understand what risks lie ahead and how we can prepare for them or mitigate them. or are ready to adapt to them. “
Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@ or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.