Dr. Mary Cleave in 1985, months ahead of her first spaceflight. Photo: NASA

Bay Mourns Pioneering Female Astronaut, an Annapolis Rower

A pioneering female astronaut who has lived and spent time around the waters of Annapolis has passed away at the age of 76.

Dr. Mary Louis Cleave, who was a NASA astronaut and veteran of two spaceflights, STS-61-B Atlantis and STS-30 Atlantis, passed away on Nov. 27, 2023, in Annapolis, MD. Her death came 38 years to the day after her first space flight, Nov. 27, 1985, which launched on the 26th from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. During her mission the crew deployed communications satellites and conducted two six-hour spacewalks to demonstrate space station construction techniques.

Cleave returned from that first successful flight in 1985 and the Challenger disaster struck just two months later. After NASA’s spaceflights were halted for 32 months, Cleave launched into orbit in 1989, becoming the first woman to do so after the disaster.

Back aboard Atlantis, Cleave and the crew spent four days successfully deploying the Magellan Venus exploration spacecraft. It was the first planetary probe to be deployed from a space shuttle and reached Venus the following year, gathering valuable insight about the planet.

In addition to her own two spaceflights, Cleave served as spacecraft communicator on five space shuttle flights. Cleave had an extensive education, with training in civil and environmental engineering, as well as biological sciences and microbial ecology. Cleave was the first woman to serve as an associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

“I’m sad we’ve lost trailblazer Dr. Mary Cleave, shuttle astronaut, veteran of two spaceflights, and first woman to lead the Science Mission Directorate as associate administrator,” said NASA Associate Administrator Bob Cabana. “Mary was a force of nature with a passion for science, exploration, and caring for our home planet. She will be missed.”

Cleave’s remarkable journey as an astronaut eventually led her to Maryland, when she transferred to Goddard Space Flight Center in 1991. She moved to Annapolis at that time, where she remained until her death. Cleave retired from NASA in February 2007.

Cleave was active in the local community. She was a member of the Annapolis Rowing Club, starting as a novice in 2015 and staying with the team for a couple of seasons.

Annapolis Rowing Club membership director Kim Grounds tells Chesapeake Bay Magazine that Cleave
“belonging to ARC, even for a short period, is truly an honor.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano