Meet the First American Woman to Walk in Space

Kathryn Sullivan's interview is part of TIME Firsts, a multimedia project featuring 46 groundbreaking women. Watch the rest of the videos at Buy the book at the TIME Shop.

When Kathryn Sullivan joined the Astronaut Corps in 1978, she was breaking ground for women in space — and luckily she wasn't alone.

NASA had the wisdom to bring in a critical mass — six women, three African Americans, an Asian,” Sullivan said. “There was a cohort, and we could build a bit of an alliance to tackle some of the issues that come along with adding new people to a close-knit culture.”

That cohort knew the importance of what they were doing.

“All six of us in that first batch of women felt a self-imposed pressure,” she said. “One of us would be the first to fly, another would be the first to do a spacewalk — which only a small group of the Astronaut Corps gets to do. We knew our performance would have a big influence on the prospects of the women who would come after us.”

Even with that pressure, the specifics of being a “first” at something wasn't paramount to Sullivan.

“I was thrilled to be tapped for a spacewalk, but the ‘first female spacewalker’ tag really didn’t matter to me,” she said. “It was my first spacewalk.”

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