NASA Astronaut Mary Cleave, First Woman on Post-Challenger Space Shuttle Mission, Dies at 76
Mary Cleave, the renowned NASA astronaut who made history by becoming the first woman to fly on a space shuttle mission following the Challenger disaster in 1989, has passed away at the age of 76. NASA has refrained from disclosing the cause of her death.
Cleave, considered a trailblazer in the field, dedicated her life to science, exploration, and environmental preservation. Before even obtaining her driver’s license, she earned her pilot’s license, demonstrating an early fascination with aviation. Interestingly, Cleave initially aspired to become a flight attendant, but due to her height falling short of airline requirements, she had to abandon that dream.
Despite this setback, Cleave did not let it deter her ambitions. Through affirmative action, she was able to join the elite ranks of NASA’s astronauts, flying supersonic jets known as T-38s. In 1980, she officially applied to NASA’s astronaut program and was successfully chosen.
Cleave’s groundbreaking journey began in 1985 when she became the 10th woman to venture into space on NASA’s Space Shuttle Atlantis. During her first mission, she served as a flight engineer and played a crucial role in operating the shuttle’s robotic arm. Her second flight, STS-30, also on Atlantis, marked the return of all-male crews following the devastating Challenger explosion in 1986.
Despite the significance of her achievements, Cleave emphasized that she did not want to be treated differently simply because she was a female astronaut. She shared a close friendship with astronaut Judith Resnik, who tragically lost her life in the Challenger accident. Cleave also served as a member of NASA mission control’s CapCom during Sally Ride’s historic space journey in 1983, becoming the first instance of female-to-female space communication in NASA’s history.
Throughout her career, Cleave spent more than 10 days in orbit, fulfilling her mission to explore the vastness of space. However, her concerns for the environment grew over time, prompting her decision to leave the astronaut corps. Cleave then joined the Goddard Space Flight Center, dedicating her expertise to the SeaWiFS project, an ocean-monitoring sensor. In recognition of her contributions, she became the first woman to hold the esteemed title of associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.
In 2007, Cleave retired from NASA, but her passion for inspiring young women in science and her commitment to volunteer work endured. She leaves behind an enduring legacy as a pioneer and advocate for exploring the unknown and protecting our planet.
Mary Cleave’s contributions to space exploration and her unwavering commitment to science and the environment will forever be remembered in the annals of history.