Astronaut Dr Kathy Sullivan Becomes First Woman to Dive to Earth’s Lowest Point

Dr Kathy Sullivan just became the first woman to dive to Earth’s lowest point, and the deepest place on the planet. The dive took place in a special submarine designed to reach the bottom of the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench near Guam. Challenger Deep is over 36,000 feet deep, and if you’re wondering why it has such an awesome name, it was named after the HMS Challenger vessel that discovered it in 1875.

Astronaut Dr Kathy Sullivan

Who is Dr Kathy Sullivan?

Dr. Kathy Sullivan is an American astronaut and engineer who was born on September 26, 1949 in Boston, Massachusetts. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1971. Her first time in space was on board the shuttle Endeavor when she served as a mission specialist for STS-40 between November 13-19, 1990. During her time there she had the opportunity to conduct three spacewalks and help install a commercial satellite on the Russian Mir space station.

What is the Challenger Deep?

The Challenger Deep is the deepest point in all of the world’s oceans. Located in the Mariana Trench, it lies at 36,200 feet below sea level and is named after the British Royal Navy survey ship HMS Challenger that discovered it. The Challenger Deep is nearly seven miles deep and has a depth that is approximately one and a half times deeper than Mount Everest. It was first dived by Jacques Piccard and Don Walsh on January 23, 1960 using a bathyscaphe called Trieste. They reached a maximum depth of 10,900 meters (or roughly 35,800 feet) which set the record for greatest ocean depth ever achieved until James Cameron descended to 11 kilometers with his Deepsea Challenger submersible on March 25, 2012.

What are the challenges of reaching the Challenger Deep?

Kathy Sullivan, an astronaut and retired Navy captain, became the first woman to dive to Earth’s lowest point when she reached the Challenger Deep of the Mariana Trench in a one-person submersible on Sunday. The Challenger Deep is 10 times deeper than Mount Everest is tall, or about 6.83 miles (11 kilometers) below sea level. The pressure at these depths is immense — up to eight tons per square inch as opposed to 1 ton per square inch on land. This means that everything from a human body down to microbes would take a lot of energy and equipment for exploration.

What are the implications of this dive?

The implications of this dive are enormous. She not only became the first woman to dive this deep, but she also became the oldest woman, at age 66, to make such a deep dive. Diving into the Challenger Deep is a big deal.
Some say that diving so deeply could be detrimental for her health or even life expectancy and some others say that it will just take time for her body to recover from the experience. One thing is for sure though: she has made history and it will be tough for anyone to take her place as the first woman on this list of most amazing people on Earth.
The biggest implication of this dive is probably in regards to human space exploration.

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