First female astronaut in the U.S. becomes first woman to visit the Pacific Ocean’s deepest point

Emerald Pellot

Former NASA astronaut Dr. Kathy Sullivan became the first woman to walk in space in 1984. On June 7, Sullivan made history again when she was the first woman to descend at full ocean depth. 

The location is known as Challenger Deep, where it’s nearly seven miles down to the lowest point of the Pacific Ocean. Sullivan was the first of a team of three to complete the 10-hour mission. The journey took place on a submarine named “Limiting Factor” which has visited all five ocean’s deepest points. 

US Navy Lieutenant Don Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard became the first to reach Challenger Deep in 1960, but it has hardly been visited in the years since.

Sullivan was invited on the trip by explorer Victor Vescovo. He organized the personal trip with EYOS Expeditions to increase interest in the ocean and science. Vescovo is now the only person to reach the deepest points in every ocean. 

“I mean, it’s just magical that we can go to these places because of the ingenuity and the engineering prowess of these teams of people, we can take our bodies to places that we really have no business being,” Sullivan told BBC News. “And we can do that, essentially, in street clothes. I mean, I ate lunch 31,000ft below the surface of the ocean on Sunday. That’s crazy.”

The 68-year-old is now also the first woman to ascend and descend to both of the great unknowns. 

“I think exploration can take many forms. It doesn’t have to be venturing off physically to the middle of the Pacific Ocean or to the Earth orbit,” she says. “I think I will be exploring until they put me in a little wooden box at some point in the future.”

If you enjoyed this story, read why women may be better suited for space travel.

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