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Trailblazing astronaut looks down from above at Lehigh University

Published On: Apr 09 2014 09:29:59 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 09 2014 09:44:04 PM CDT
ALLENTOWN, Pa. -

No matter how you look at it, Kathy Sullivan's talk Wednesday night on the campus of Lehigh University was just out of this world.

The former NASA astronaut, oceanographer and administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration discussed a topic most of us take for granted or rarely contemplate - the truly dynamic nature of the earth.

"viewing earth from space is really, truly, spectacular," she said during her lecture at the Packard Auditorium in an attempt to put the experience into perspective.

She would know. After three trailblazing Space Shuttle missions and more than 500 hours logged in space in which she became the first woman ever to walk in space, Sullivan brought her unique perspective of viewing our planet in a way almost none of us will ever see in this lifetime, through an awesome array of photos from the heavens.

Whether it was stunning pictures of migrating sand dunes in Australia, radiant images of plankton blooms near the Falkland Islands or a cavalcade of lights signifying a mass of humanity in the Gaza Strip, those in attendance received a temporary world passport.

But you'd be remiss to label her Wednesday night address as all sizzle but no steak. Sullivan expressed her desire to make her experience in space prove to be a valuable experience for people from all walks of life.

"I wanted to figure out ways to make it matter," Sullivan said.

 And make it matter she has.

Sullivan has studied the interactions between the oceans and our atmosphere that determine our weather patterns, and has dedicated her career to furthering our understanding of global climate science.

On March 6th she was confirmed by the United States Senate as the under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

In essence NOAA works to keep U.S. citizens apprised of the short- and long-term changes to the environment around them, she said.

The organization provides daily weather forecasts that we read on our smartphones, look at on our computers and view on television.

They also provide valuable information to emergency management agencies and elected officials concerning the monitoring of severe storms.

On a longer-term basis NOAA monitors our climate, supports marine commerce, provides fisheries management and provides valuable research.

"We provide decision makers, emergency managers, planner and citizens with accurate and important information when it's needed most," she said.

That information  includes drought monitors, along with tornado, hurricane and tropical storm warnings, 

Case in point was a dramatic photo Sullivan displayed of massive Hurricane Sandy looking down from space north-to-south as it battered the eastern coast of the United States on October 29th, 2013.

From above the image looked almost tranquil, painted like milk resting passively in your morning coffee.

However, looks as we know, can sometimes be deceiving.

Sullivan said her goal was to help communities become "resilient" to acts of God such as Hurricane Sandy. And that could just be as amazing as a walk in space.