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Name: Sullivan, Kathryn
Current Position: Previous Administrator

On March 6, 2014, Kathryn D. Sullivan was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as undersecretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). In that post, Sullivan is responsible for the agency that makes weather forecasts, monitors climate change and supports marine commerce.


Sullivan was born October 3, 1951, in Patterson, New Jersey. Her family moved to California when she was six years old, settling in the San Fernando Valley near Los Angeles. She attended grade school with Sally Ride, a fact Sullivan didn’t realize until years later when both she and Ride were astronauts. Sullivan graduated from Taft High in Woodland Hills, California in 1969. 


Sullivan attended the University of California Santa Cruz, originally intending to study foreign languages. However, she was bitten by the science bug early on and graduated in 1973 with a B.S. in earth sciences. She then went to study at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, earning a Ph.D. in geology in 1978.


The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) selected Sullivan to become an astronaut in January 1978. Her first space flight came in October 1984 as a mission specialist aboard the Challenger. On that flight, she became the first U.S. woman to walk in space. While serving in the space program, in 1988 Sullivan joined the U.S. Naval Reserve, from which she retired 18 years later as a captain.


In April 1990, Sullivan again went into space, this time aboard Discovery. On that mission, she helped launch the Hubble Space Telescope. Sullivan flew the shuttle once more, in 1992 on Atlantis, as payload commander. During her three flights she logged 532 hours in space.


She left NASA in 1993 to become chief scientist for NOAA. In that post, she oversaw research into climate change, marine biodiversity and satellite instrumentation.


Sullivan left federal service in 1996, when she was selected as president of the Center of Science and Industry museum in Columbus, Ohio. She remained in that post until 2005, when she left to become head of the Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy at Ohio State University. The center works to increase the number of students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.


President Barack Obama nominated Sullivan in 2011 to serve as assistant secretary of Commerce at NOAA. There, she helped direct weather and water services, climate science and services, integrated mapping services and Earth-observing capabilities. Sullivan became acting NOAA administrator in February 2013 and was nominated by Obama as administrator in August of that year.


Sullivan is a private pilot and was one of the first two female members of The Explorers Club.


To Learn More:

Official Biography

Astronaut Biography (NASA)

Five Amazing Facts About Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Our Newly Confirmed Head of NOAA (by Jeff Watters, Ocean Conservancy)

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