Wendy Lawrence oral history interview
Astronaut Wendy Lawrence is interviewed about her military service and spaceflight career during the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. She describes key assignments from her U.S. Navy service, such as her time as a helicopter pilot and her time as a physics instructor at the Naval Academy. She then discusses her experiences as a mission specialist with NASA’s Space Shuttle program and shares details about her four spaceflight missions: STS-67, STS-86, STS-91, and STS-114. Topics discussed include her service history, her training and career as an astronaut, spaceflight mission objectives and logistics, her STEM and higher education advocacy, and her thoughts on the future of human spaceflight.
Wendy Lawrence is a retired United States Navy pilot and a former NASA astronaut. She was born on July 2, 1959 at the naval hospital at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, Florida. Her father, Vice Admiral William P. Lawrence, was a naval aviator and a finalist for the Mercury space program. Her mother, Anne Lawrence, was a preschool teacher.
As a child, Lawrence was inspired by the Apollo 11 Moon landing to pursue a career as an astronaut. In 1977, a year after Congress authorized the admission of women to the service academies, Lawrence entered the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. She graduated in 1981 with a bachelor’s degree in ocean engineering. She earned her naval aviator designation in 1982 and afterwards served with Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 6 (HC-6) in the Indian Ocean. In 1988, she earned a Master of Science in ocean engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Her next assignment was with Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 30 (HSL-30), where she served as officer-in-charge of Detachment ALFA. As a Boeing-Vertol H-46 pilot, she provided logistical support for oceanographic surveying. In 1990, Lawrence returned to the Naval Academy as an instructor, teaching physics, leadership, and underwater acoustics. She also coached the novice women’s crew team.
In 1992, Lawrence was selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate (ASCAN). After undergoing training at the Johnson Space Center in Texas, she embarked on her first space mission, STS-67 (March 2-18, 1995), aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Afterwards, she served as Director of Operations for NASA at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia as part of the Shuttle-Mir program. In 1997, she participated in STS-86 (September 25-October 6, 1997), a docking mission between the Space Shuttle Atlantis and the Mir space station. The following year, she served aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery during STS-91 (June 2-12, 1998), another Shuttle-Mir docking mission and the final mission for NASA’s Phase I preparations for the International Space Station. During this mission, the Shuttle crew delivered the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, a module used to measure antimatter.
From July 26 to August 9, 2005, Lawrence participated in her fourth and final spaceflight mission, STS-114, again serving aboard the Discovery. The first spaceflight mission following the Columbia disaster in February 2003, STS-114’s primary mission objective was to test and evaluate new safety procedures for the Space Shuttle. During this mission, Lawrence had the opportunity to serve under Commander Eileen Collins, who had made history in 1999 as the first female shuttle commander.
Lawrence retired from NASA in 2006, with a cumulative total of over 1,200 hours spent in space. She continues to be strong advocate of STEM education, particularly for young women, and works part-time at Space Camp and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. She also serves on the University of Washington Bothell Advisory Board.
Biographical information derived from interview, from additional information provided by interviewee, and from online sources.
National Air and Space Administration. “STS-86 Biographies.” NASA History. Accessed December 19, 2019. https://history.nasa.gov/SP-4225/documentation/mission-summaries/sts86/biographies/biographies.htm#lawrence.
University of Washington Bothell. “University of Washington Bothell Advisory Board: 2019-20 Members.” Accessed December 19, 2019. https://www.uwb.edu/chancellor/advisoryboard.
Time Period Discussed
Boeing-Vertol H-46 Family
International Space Station
Lawrence, Wendy, 1959-
Mir (Space station)
Space Shuttle Program (U.S.)
United States. National Aeronautics and Space Administration
United States. Navy
Women air pilots