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  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#204 Kathy Sullivan

This week we talk about and talk to the incomparable Kathryn Sullivan, an adventurer in space, and the bottom of the ocean, with a scientific and political career in-between. Also a quick tribute to Ole Christensen Rømer who was the first to measure the speed of light.

"Nothing in the universe can travel at the speed of light, they say, forgetful of the shadow's speed"

Howard Nemerov


25th September

1956 – TAT-1, the first submarine transatlantic telephone cable system, is inaugurated.


1644 - Ole Christensen Rømer

Danish astronomer who, in 1676, made the first quantitative measurements of the speed of light.

This is a who’s who of astronomy giants. Galileo invented a way of finding out what longitude you are on by observing the moons of Jupiter. Essentially the moons are going around like clockwork, and so you can literally use Jupiter like a celestial clock, the hands being the moons. However, you need very good data to make it accurate, and it’s really difficult to do at sea, solved eventually by Harrisons Clocks.

So you need good data, in walk Romer, Jean Picard and Cassini. Romer and Jean Picard at Tycho Brahe’s Observatory in Hven and Cassini, in Paris, watched 140 orbits of IO. By comparing the tables they worked out the difference in longitude between Hven and Paris.

However Cassini noticed a strange thing, some time differences in the orbits, and he put this down to the speed of light, but for some bizarre reason abandoned the line of thinking. But Romer ran with it, and nailed the reasoning and gave a speech to the French Academy, but didn’t actually publish this himself.

He also didn’t seem bothered about calculating the value even though he’d nailed the method and the formula.

Christian Huygens contacted Romer for more data and worked out a value 212,000Km/s only a little shy of the actual value 299,792.458 km/s.

In addition to inventing the first street lights in Copenhagen, Rømer also invented the meridian circle and the altazimuth, Rømer also invented the modern thermometer showing the temperature between two fixed points, namely the points at which water respectively boils and freezes.


Astronauts of the week

Kathy Sullivan.

logged over 532 hours in space.

Born in New Jersey

BSc in Earth Sciences from the University of California -1973, (Santa Cruz)

Her doctoral studies at Dalhousie University included a variety of oceanographic expeditions, of the U.S. Geological Survey, Wood’s Hole Oceanographic Institute and the Bedford Institute.

Her research included the MidAtlantic Ridge, the Newfoundland Basin and fault zones off the Southern California Coast.

PhD in Geology from Dalhousie University in 1978 - The structure and evolution of the Newfoundland Basin, offshore eastern Canada

After mainly being an academic she was selected by NASA in January 1978, and was an astronaut in August 1979.

Her Shuttle support assignments since then include:

  • software development;

  • launch and landing lead chase photographer;

  • Orbiter and cargo test,

  • checkout and launch support at KSC;

  • extravehicular activity (EVA) and spacesuit support crew

  • capsule communicator (CAPCOM) in Mission Control for numerous Shuttle missions.

A veteran of three space flights,

STS-41G (October 5-13, 1984), STS-31 (April 24-29, 1990) and STS-45

(March 24-April 2, 1992).

All had lots of Imax footage of course.

STS 41G - Challenger (6th Flight)

Features the first Beard in Space on Ozzy Paul Scully-Power!!! (who had the book Oceans to Orbit: The Story of Australia's First Man in Space written about him) an Oceanographer who Kathy must have had a lot of conversations with ...surely

First Flight with a crew of Seven.

Legend Bob Crippen as commander, Sally Ride’s second Ride, and the first Canadian Marc Garneau.

For Kathy Sullivan, she became the first American woman to do a Spacewalk, pipped to the post by Russian Woman, Svetlana Savitskaya who was assigned a spacewalk once Russia had wind that Kathy was going to do hers. (Kathy heard about her own EVA via Sally Ride) Svetlana, is an incredible pilot and it was her second space flight, but the spacewalk felt fairly arbitrary, a welding exercise she didn’t fully understand, almost as if it was done for the russian first.

The fact is as soon as it became public that Sally Ride was going to be the first woman to go into to space twice and that Kathy was going to do a spacewalk both of them had already assured colleagues months before that a Russian would be scrambled to take away these firsts, as that is what the Russians did. “You don't do the fourth mission worse than the first one just because it's not a first. It's a nonsensical proposition” she didn’t worry about the peanut gallery in her words.

Any way Svetlana holds lots of pilots records and faced her own barriers and sexism etc, so we really should take anything away from her.

There is a fantastic fact about the spacesuit used, in the interview.

Sullivan and Leestma performed a 3-hour EVA demonstrating the Orbital Refueling System (ORS) and proving the feasibility of refuelling satellites in orbit.

The ORS was designed to deliver about 550 lb. of fuel to a retrieved satellite

For the final fuel transfer stage, Leestma and Sullivan in spacesuits and proceed to the aft end of the payload bay where the ORS equipment is mounted on an MPESS (Mission Peculiar Experiment Support Structure). opening the toolbox and removing the hydrazine servicing tool which will already be hooked up to the fuel supply tank. They connected it to the ground fill panel of a simulated satellite panel, thus completing the fuel supply link. After pressure checking the hookup, the crewmembers retreat back inside. The actual transfer of the hydrazine, which is a very toxic and corrosive material, will be controlled from the aft flight deck experiment control panels. The ORS is equipped with sensors which provide pressure and temperature values and switch and valve positions.

Kathy tells a funny anecdote about a clamshell-like component that was nipping at Leestma’s hand, flapping open and closed relentlessly, and how they hadn’t even considered the lack of friction in hinges when simulating in the pool, and hoe pool simulations in someways trick you into thinking it’s realistic, but of course, they are an imperfect simulation.

STS- 31 - Discovery

35th Shuttle mission, which launched the Hubble Space Telescope

Featuring Bolden, Shriver and McCandless on the 5 man crew. All on 2nd Space flights except Hawley on his third.

This Shuttle flew the highest so far and had the longest reentry burn as a result too.

The primary goal was to get the most famous telescope ever into space. It did not go very well. Those watching the program Away will recall Hillary Swank’s character having to do an emergency spacewalk to unfurl the solar arrays with the cosmonaut at her side. Almost an exact same scenario here as Sullivan was suited up ready to go with McCandless to do the exact same thing, pre-breathing inside the partially depressurized airlock

The flight also carried "Detailed Secondary Objective 469" -- an actual Female human skull.

STS-45 - Atlantis - carried 3 Podcast Guests!!!!!

Featuring Bolden, Podcast Guest Foale becoming the first British born man in space, Podcast guest and first Belgian in Space Dirk Freimout,

A Spacelab mission, which was ESA’s flagship project, flying with science experiments from all around the world and many from Europe. Built-in exchange for Astronaut flights from Europe. The first of 3 ATLAS: Atmospheric Laboratory for Applications and Science missions.

The legacy of Spacelab lived on in the form of the MPLMs (named after ninja turtles). These systems include the ATV and Cygnus spacecraft used to transfer payloads to the International Space Station, and the Columbus, Harmony and Tranquility modules of the International Space Station.

The science done on this mission greatly increased knowledge of the atmosphere and climate on earth, and also created the first man-made aurora by firing electron into the atmosphere.

  • After leaving NASA, Sullivan served as chief scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • president and CEO of the COSI Columbus, an interactive science centre in Ohio.

  • Director for Ohio State University's Battelle Center for Mathematics and Science Education Policy

  • She was appointed to the National Science Board by President George W. Bush in 2004.

  • Was elected to a three-year term as the chair of the Section on General Interest in Science and Engineering for the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  • confirmed by unanimous consent of the U.S. Senate and appointed by President Obama to serve as Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction and Deputy Administrator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

  • Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator

  • Sullivan was named the 2017 Charles A. Lindbergh Chair of Aerospace History, a competitive 12-month fellowship at the National Air and Space Museum

  • 2019 - Published her book Handprints on Hubble

  • 2020, Sullivan travelled on an expedition aboard the Triton Submarines DSV Limiting Factor to the bottom of the Challenger Deep, the deepest known point in the ocean, becoming the first woman to reach the deepest known point in the ocean (no Russian spoilers this time) and the first person to travel to both Challenger Deep and to space

  • 2020 her crowning achievement - Being on the Podcast!!!!!

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