Lucid, Shannon

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Shannon Lucid

Born January 14, 1943 (Shanghai, China)

American astronaut, biochemist, administrator

Women's contributions to space exploration began in 1963, when Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova (1937–; see entry) became the first woman to fly in space. Tereshkova's legacy was continued by such women as American astronauts Sally Ride (1951–; see entry) and Mae Jemison (1956–; see entry) and French cosmonaut Claudie Haigneré (1957–; see entry). More than thirty years after Tereshkova's flight, American astronaut Shannon Lucid achieved another milestone. During a six-month mission on the Russian space station Mir, she logged the most flight hours in space by a woman. (A space station is a research laboratory that orbits in space.) She also set the international record for the most flight hours in orbit by a non-Russian.

"What could be more exciting than working in a laboratory that hurtles around the earth at 17,000 miles per hour?"

Combines studies with family life

Shannon Lucid was born on January 14, 1943, in Shanghai, China, the daughter of Joseph and Myrtle Wells. Her parents were American citizens, but they were serving as Baptist missionaries in China during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45; a conflict between China and Japan over territory

in China). At the time of Shannon's birth, China was occupied by Japan and the family was being held in a Japanese prison camp. She would not have survived had her parents not saved their rations (supply of food) to feed her. When she was nearly a year old, the family moved back to the United States as part of a prisoner exchange program. They returned to China after the war, remaining there until Shannon was six. Once again the Wellses were forced to leave China, this time by the Chinese Communists, who had seized control of the government. They went to Bethany, Oklahoma, where Joseph Wells became an evangelical preacher. He traveled around the country giving sermons, while the family remained in Bethany.

While attending public school in Bethany, Lucid excelled in mathematics and science. She was also interested in space exploration, but she received little encouragement. In Biography Today Lucid is quoted as saying, "People thought I was crazy because that was long before America had a space program." When she was in junior high school she discovered a book on Robert Goddard (1882–1945; see entry), the father of modern rocketry. She decided to follow in his footsteps, and in eighth grade she even worked on a science experiment to make her own rocket fuel. One junior-high teacher told her girls were not allowed to be rocket scientists, but a high-school science teacher encouraged her to pursue a science career. Lucid also became interested in flying when she was in high school, finally earning her private pilot's license at age twenty. Later she earned commercial, instrument, and multiengine aircraft licenses.

Lucid graduated from Bethany High School in 1960, placing second in her class. She attended the University of Oklahoma, where in 1963 she became the first woman to receive a bachelor of science degree in chemistry. She was a teaching assistant at the university for a year before taking a job as a senior lab technician at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. Lucid left the foundation in 1966 to work as a chemist for Kerr-McGee, where she met her husband, Michael Lucid. They married in 1968, and their first daughter was born about a year later.

Lucid returned to the University of Oklahoma in 1969 as a graduate assistant in the biochemistry and molecular biology department. She earned her master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in biochemistry in 1970 and 1973, respectively. Lucid was such a dedicated student that she even took an exam the day after the birth of her second daughter. In 1974 Lucid returned as a research associate to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, where she investigated the effect of cancer-causing agents on rats. She remained at the foundation until she joined the astronaut candidate training program in 1978. Her third child, a son, was born in 1976.

Begins astronaut career

Lucid was a member of the first group of women chosen from eight thousand applicants for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) astronaut training program. She joined surgeon Margaret Rhea Seddon (1947–), geophysicist Kathryn D. Sullivan (1951–), electrical engineer Judith A. Resnik (1949–1986; see Challenger Crew entry), physicist Sally Ride, and physician Anna Lee Fisher (1949–). In 1979 Lucid and her five colleagues became the first women to achieve the full rank of astronaut. Yet they were not the first women to be selected as candidates for astronaut training. In the 1960s thirteen women were chosen for Project Mercury, the first stage of the U.S. manned spaceflight mission. Known as the Mercury 13 (see entry), they were ultimately not allowed to go on to astronaut training because they were not military pilots.

Lucid was trained as a mission specialist (one who conducts research and other specialized tasks) on space shuttles and served in this capacity on all of her space flights. (A space shuttle is a craft that transports people and cargo between Earth and space.) She took her first trip into space on June 17, 1985, aboard the space shuttle Discovery. During this seven-day mission the crew deployed (released into orbit) three international communications satellites (objects that orbit in space)—the Morelos for Mexico, the Arabsat for the Arab League, and the AT&T Telstar for the United States. Using the Remote Manipulator System (RMS), they deployed and retrieved the SPARTAN satellite. The SPARTAN performed seventeen hours of x-ray astronomy experiments while separated from the space shuttle. In addition, the crew activated the Advanced Automated Directional Solidification Furnace (AADSF), which determines how gravity-driven convection (transfer of heat) affects alloys (mixtures of two or more materials, usually metal). They also activated six Small, Self-Contained Payloads (also known as Getaway Specials, or GAS payloads), which offer individuals or groups the opportunity to fly small experiments aboard a space shuttle. Finally, they participated in biomedical experiments.

Lucid's next flight was a five-day mission on the space shuttle Atlantis in October 1989. She and fellow crew members deployed the Galileo spacecraft on its journey to explore

the planet Jupiter. In addition, they operated the shuttle solar backscatter ultraviolet instrument (SSBUV), which maps ozone (air pollution) in Earth's atmosphere, and performed numerous secondary experiments. In August 1991 Lucid returned to space on a nine-day Atlantis mission to deploy the fifth tracking-and-data-relay satellite. This particular satellite provides telecommunication services to orbiting spacecraft. The crew also conducted thirty-two experiments, most of them relating to a U.S. space station called Freedom, which was never constructed.

In November 1991, Lucid went into space a fourth time, spending fourteen days aboard the space shuttle Columbia. She and the crew tested the effects of space flight on humans and rats and conducted various engineering tests. On this flight Lucid set a record as the American woman with the most hours in space—a total of 838. The Columbia orbited Earth 225 times, traveling 5.8 million miles (9.33 kilometers) in 336 hours.

Prepares for Mir mission

Lucid's involvement with the Mir program began in 1994. Robert "Hoot" Gibson (1946–), then head of the NASA astronaut office, asked if she would be interested in starting full-time Russian-language instruction with the possibility of going to Russia to train for a Mir mission. Lucid accepted the assignment, though this did not necessarily mean she would be going to Russia, much less flying on Mir. As she explained in an article for Scientific American magazine, "From a personal standpoint, I viewed the Mir mission as a perfect opportunity to combine two of my passions: flying airplanes and working in laboratories…. For a scientist who loves flying, what could be more exciting than working in a laboratory that hurtles around the earth at 17,000 miles per hour?"

Lucid was eventually selected to participate in the mission. After three months of intensive language study, she began training at Star City, the cosmonaut instruction center outside Moscow, in January 1995. Every morning she woke at 5:00 to begin studying. She spent most of the day in classrooms listening to lectures on the Mir and Soyuz systems—all in Russian. (Soyuz is the longest-serving spacecraft in the world.) In the evenings Lucid continued to study the language and struggled with workbooks written in technical Russian. "I worked harder during that year than at any other time in my life. Going to graduate school while raising toddlers was child's play in comparison," Lucid wrote in Scientific American.

In February 1996, after passing the required medical and technical exams, Lucid was certified as a Mir crew member by the Russian spaceflight commission. She then traveled to Baikonur, Kazakhstan, to watch the launch of the Soyuz, which carried her crewmates, both named Yuri—Commander Yuri Onufrienko (1961–), a Russian air force officer, and Yuri Usachev (1957–), a Russian civilian—to the Mir space station. Lucid then went back to the United States for three weeks of training with the crew of the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis, which would take her to Mir. On March 22, 1996, Atlantis lifted off

from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Three days later the shuttle docked with Mir.

Spends six months in space

Lucid stayed busy while living aboard Mir. The day began when the alarm rang at 8:00 a.m. The first activity for the crew members was to put on their headphones and talk with mission control. Next they had breakfast, first adding water to their food and then eating it while floating around a table. In the afternoon they had a long lunch—again floating around the table—which usually consisted of Russian potatoes and meat casseroles. Although the crew had many responsibilities, they still had time for conversations about their own lives and experiences. They also had fun. One time Lucid lost a shoe and a cosmonaut found it, so she gave him a gelatin dessert as a reward.

The crew performed thirty-five life science and physical science experiments, such as determining how protein crystals grow in space and how quail embryos develop in zero gravity. Many of the experiments also provided useful data for the engineers designing the International Space Station (ISS; see entry). The results from investigations in fluid physics, for example, helped the space station's planners build better ventilation and life-support systems. Research on combustion in microgravity may also lead to improved procedures for fighting fires on the station.

Letter from a "Cosmic Outpost"

Shannon Lucid wrote a letter from Mir on May 19, 1996. In the excerpt below she described the arrival of the resupply vehicle Progress.

Usually about every six weeks one [a resupply vehicle] is sent to Mir with food, equipment, clothes—everything that, on Earth, you would have to go to the store and buy in order to live….

I saw it [the Progress] first. There were big thunderstorms out in the Atlantic, with a brilliant display of lightening [sic] like visual tom toms. The cities were strung out like Christmas tree lights along the coast—and there was the Progress like a bright morning star skimming along the top!!! Suddenly, its brightness increased dramatically and Yuri said, "The engine just fired." Soon, it was close enough that we could see the deployed solar arrays. To me, it looked like some alien insect headed straight toward us. All of a sudden I really did feel like I was in a "cosmic outpost" anxiously awaiting supplies—and really hoping that my family did remember to send me some books and candy!!! …

The first things we took out were our personal packages and, yes, I quickly peeked in to see if my family had remembered the books and candy I'd requested. Of course they had. Then we started to unpack. We found the fresh food and stopped right there for lunch. We had fresh tomatoes and onions; I never have had such a good lunch. For the next week we had fresh tomatoes three times a day. It was a sad meal when we ate the last ones!!!

Exercise was essential to counteract the effects of weight-lessness. Lucid spent two hours every day running on a treadmill, attaching herself to the machine with a bungee cord. This prevented significant weight and muscle loss normally encountered by astronauts. When Lucid returned to Earth aboard the Atlantis on September 26, she was in such good physical shape that she was able to walk off the space shuttle without assistance. She had flown 75.2 million miles (121 kilometers) in 188 days, 4 hours, and 14 seconds, setting a new record for a woman—a total of 5,354 hours (223 days) in space. The previous female record, 170 days, had been held by Russian cosmonaut Yelena Vladimirovna Kondakova (1957–).

Honored for achievements

In 2002, NASA named Lucid the new chief scientist of the Solar System Exploration division of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a NASA agency based in California. In this position she oversaw the agency's science agenda, leading a three-person science council that would shape the future of U.S. space exploration. Lucid is the only woman to be awarded the U.S. Congressional Space Medal of Honor. She also received the Order of Friendship Medal, one of the most prestigious Russian civilian honors and the highest award that can be presented to a non-citizen. In 1997 the Freedom Forum presented Lucid the Free Spirit Award in recognition of her work and accomplishments in the space program.

For More Information


Atkins, Jeannine. The Story of Women in Space. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003.

Crouch, Tom D. Aiming for the Stars: The Dreamers and Doers of the Space Age. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1999.

Harris, Laurie, and Cherie Abbey, eds. Biography Today, Scientists and Inventors Series. Detroit: Omnigraphics, Inc., 1998.

Woodmansee, Laura S. Women Astronauts. Burlington, Ontario: Collector's Guide Publishing, 2002.


Danes, Mary K. "Space Woman on Mir." Hopscotch (October/November 2002): p. 2.

"Just Let Her Fly." Discover (April 1999): p. 18.

Lucid, Shannon. "Six Months on Mir." Scientific American (May 1998): pp. 46–55.

Web Sites

"Astronaut Bio: Shannon Lucid." Johnson Space Center, NASA. (accessed on June 29, 2004).

"Pink Socks and Jello: Shannon Lucid Writes a Letter Home." (accessed on June 30, 2004).