Mary Cleave, ‘trailblazing’ astronaut, dies at 76

She was the tenth woman in space, orbited Earth 172 times, and logged 3.94 million miles during her space missions.
By | Published: November 30, 2023

Mary Cleave, a former NASA astronaut and engineer, died Monday at age 76 according to a release from NASA,

Cleave was the tenth woman in space, the first woman to fly in NASA’s space shuttle after the Challenger disaster of 1986, and the first woman to lead the Science Mission Directorate.

“I’m sad we’ve lost (a) trailblazer,” said NASA’s Bob Cabana in the release. “Mary was a force of nature with a passion for science, exploration, and caring for our home planet. She will be missed.”

Cleave was born in Southampton, New York, and grew up in Great Neck, New York. She received her bachelor’s degree in biological sciences at Colorado State University. Later, Cleave earned her master’s in microbial ecology and a Ph.D. in civil and environmental engineering from Utah State University.

Space Shuttle missions

Cleave was selected for spaceflight in May 1980. Her first mission was aboard space shuttle Atlantis for the STS-61B mission in November 1985. During the mission, Cleave and the crew launched three communications satellites and went on two spacewalks,

In 1989, Cleave flew again on Atlantis for her second shuttle mission, STS-30. During this mission, the crew launched the Magellan spacecraft to study Venus, the first such craft launched from a space shuttle. Magellan mapped Venus’ surface and collected crucial information about the Venusian atmosphere and magnetic field. Cleave completed 10 days and 22 hours in space, orbited Earth 172 times and logged 3.94 million miles (6.3 million kilometers) during her space missions.

Mary Cleave, shown in 1989, works aboard Atlantis for NASA’s STS-30 mission. Credit: NASA
Mary Cleave, shown in 1989, works aboard Atlantis for NASA’s STS-30 mission. Credit: NASA

Life after NASA

In 1991, Cleave joined the Goddard Space Flight Center. There, she worked on SeaWiFS, a satellite designed to collect biological data from the ocean.

After retiring from NASA in 2007, Cleave continued to volunteer and speak to students and adults about her time as an astronaut and encouraged young women to seek STEM opportunities.