Anna Lee Fisher
Anna Lee Fisher
Anna Lee Sims
August 24, 1949
New York City, U.S.
|Alma mater||UCLA (BSc (1971), MD (1976), MS (1987))|
|Occupation||Chemist, Emergency physician|
|NASA mission specialist|
Time in space
|7d 23h 45m|
|Selection||NASA Astronaut Group 8|
Anna Lee Fisher (née Sims; born August 24, 1949) is an American chemist, emergency physician and a former NASA astronaut. Formerly married to fellow astronaut Bill Fisher, and the mother of two children, in 1984 she became the first mother in space. During her career at NASA, she was involved with three major programs: the Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and the Orion spacecraft.
A graduate of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry in 1971, Fisher started graduate school in chemistry conducting X-ray crystallographic studies of metallocarboranes. The following year she moved to the UCLA School of Medicine, where she received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1976. She completed her internship at Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, California, in 1977, and chose to specialize in emergency medicine.
Fisher was selected as an astronaut candidate with NASA Astronaut Group 8, the first group of NASA astronauts to include women, in January 1978. She became the Astronaut Office representative for the development and testing of the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) and the testing of payload bay door contingency spacewalk procedures. For the first four Space Shuttle missions she was assigned to the search and rescue helicopters supporting the flights. For the next four missions, she was involved in the verification of flight software at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL), and was a "Cape Crusader"—one of the astronauts supported vehicle integrated testing and payload testing at Kennedy Space Center. She flew in space on the Space Shuttle Discovery on the STS-51-A mission in November 1984, during which she used the RMS to retrieve two satellites that had been placed in incorrect orbits.
After a leave of absence to raise her family from 1989 to 1995, Fisher returned to the Astronaut Office, where she worked on procedures and training issues in support of the International Space Station (ISS). She was a CAPCOM from January 2011 to August 2013, and the lead CAPCOM for ISS Expedition 33. She was involved in the development of the display for the Orion spacecraft until her retirement from NASA in April 2017.
Anna Lee Sims was born in Albany, New York, on August 24, 1949. Her mother Elfriede had been born in Germany in 1918 but had emigrated to the United States when she was sixteen years old. She had returned to Germany shortly before the outbreak of World War II to care for her grandmother, and was unable to return to the United States due to the war, during which she had served in the German military as a Morse code operator. After the war she had worked in Berlin for the U.S. Army, where she met Riley F. Tingle. The two had returned to the United States, where they were married in April 1949. Over the years the family moved about frequently moved about frequently to different bases in the United States and Germany, and Anna grew up as an Army brat.
On May 5, 1961, when Sims was in the seventh grade at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, she listened to the radio broadcast of Alan Shepard becoming the first American in space on a transistor radio her teacher had brought in, and first contemplated the idea of becoming an astronaut. This seemed out of reach at the time, as all the Mercury Seven astronauts were test pilots, but she figured that by the time she was old enough there would be space stations, which would need doctors. When she was in high school she did volunteer work at Harbor General Hospital in Torrance, California, but did not let go of the dream of flying in space. She graduated from San Pedro High School in 1967.
Sims entered the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), initially studying math. She decided that the job prospects were poor and switched to chemistry, graduating with her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1971. She then spent a year in graduate school, conducting X-ray crystallographic studies of metallocarboranes, and published three article in the Inorganic Chemistry.  But she saw others who had earned PhDs after six years of work but still could not find jobs, and decided to pursue medicine instead. The following year she moved to the UCLA School of Medicine, where she received her Doctor of Medicine degree in 1976. At the time, medicine was considered a "non-traditional;" career for women, and there were only about 15 women in the medical school class of 150. She completed her internship at Harbor General Hospital in 1977. At Harbor General she met Bill Fisher, a fellow intern a year ahead of her. He too was a military brat—the son of a United States Air Force colonel—and also hoped to one day fly in space. She chose to specialize in emergency medicine and worked in several hospitals in the Los Angeles area, doing eight 24-hour shifts per month.
Another doctor at Harbor General was Mark Mecikalski, who followed the American space program. At lunch one day he informed Bill, who was now her fiancée, that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was conducting a selection of a new group of astronauts and recruiting doctors. Bill had Anna paged over the hospital loudspeaker system. They had three weeks to assemble the required documents and submit their applications. Sims posted hers the day before the deadline. NASA received 8,079 applications, and chose 208 of them for further screening. Sims was invited to come to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in to Houston, Texas, for a week of interviews, evaluations and examinations, commencing on August 29, 1977.
This was the week when Bill and Anna had planned to marry. They brought their wedding forward, and were married at Wayfarers Chapel in Paseo Del Mar, San Pedro, California, on August 23. She changed her surname to Fisher. She was part of the third group of twenty applicants to be interviewed, and the first one that included women. Among the eight women in the group were Rhea Seddon, Shannon Lucid, Nitza Cintron and Millie Hughes-Wiley. In the interview, she was asked if she wanted to have children, and she told them that she did want to have children within the next five years. Bill also received a call from NASA, and in November he was one of the ninth group of applicants to be interviewed. This group included Judith Resnik, who worked for Xerox in nearby El Segundo, California, and the two became friends. While both Anna and Bill hoped to be selected, they agreed that she had the best chance, due to her background in chemistry as well as medicine.
In January 1978, Anna received a call from George Abbey informing her that she had been selected as part of NASA Astronaut Group 8, and would commence on July 5. At the same time, he informed Bill that he had not been selected. Bill was the only unsuccessful applicant to be told of his rejection by Abbey; the job of informing unsuccessful candidates was normally delegated. Anna was interviewed by Connie Chung, and that night Bill took Anna and Resnik, who had also been selected, out to dinner to celebrate. Bill and Anna moved to Houston, where they bought a house in Clear Lake City. The new job involved a considerable pay cut; from earning about $50,000 per year (equivalent to $224,000 in 2021) as a surgical resident, she dropped down to a government salary of around $23,000 a year (equivalent to $103,000 in 2021). "It didn't matter what the pay was," she told People magazine. "To be an astronaut, I was willing to pay them."
Group 8's name for itself was "TFNG". The abbreviation was deliberately ambiguous; for public purposes, it stood for "Thirty-Five New Guys", but within the group itself, it was known to stand for the military phrase, "the fucking new guy", used to denote newcomers to a military unit. Officially, they were astronaut candidates; they would not become fully-fledged astronauts until their training was complete. Much of the first eight months of their training was in the classroom. Because there were so many of them, the TFNGs did not fit easily into the existing classrooms, so during classroom instruction they were split into two groups, red and blue, led by Rick Hauck and John Fabian respectively. Fisher was placed in the blue group. Water survival training was conducted with the 3613th Combat Crew Training Squadron at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida and parasail training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma.
Astronaut candidate training included learning to fly NASA's T-38 Talon jet aircraft. Mission specialist astronaut candidates like Fisher did not have to qualify as pilots, only ride in the back seat and handle an emergency if the pilot became incapacitated. Fellow TFNGs James Buchli and Dale Gardner, who were naval flight officers, drew up a training syllabus for mission specialists astronaut candidates like Fisher who had no aviation experience. Each was assigned to a pilot astronaut or astronaut candidate as an instructor; Fisher's was astronaut Ken Mattingly. The instructors took pride in the progress of their trainees, and attempted to convey some of their own love of flying. Fisher took private flying lessons, and soloed for the first time in November 1978. On one weekend day each month, she worked in the emergency room at Houston Methodist Clear Lake Hospital or Tampa General Hospital in Florida or to keep her medical skills well-honed. To keep in shape she would do a 4-mile (6.4 km) run each day, lifted weights in the gym, and played racquetball.
On August 31, 1979, Fisher completed her training and evaluation period, making her eligible for assignment as a mission specialist on Space Shuttle flight crews, had there been any. NASA had already, on August 1, issued a call for another intake of astronaut candidates. Bill applied again. He had taken earned a Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of Houston and taken flying lessons to make himself more attractive to the program. This time he was accepted, and became part of NASA Astronaut Group 9. This made them the first married couple to be selected for astronaut training.[note 1] She attended meetings of the astronauts' spouses club so the wives of her fellow astronauts would not feel threatened by her working closely with their husbands.
Following the one-year basic training program, Fisher was assigned to assist in the design of spacesuits tailored to fit women (called the extra-small Extravehicular Mobility Unit or EMU). In particular, she assisted with the design of an extra-small hard upper torso (HUT). She was given Pete Conrad's old space suit worn on the Apollo 12 and Skylab 2 missions. Conrad was one of the shortest Apollo astronauts, but the suit was still too large. Fisher made do, and wore the suit when she carried out various activities in a water tank to test tools and procedures for extravehicular activity (EVA). Ultimately, NASA decided that the cost and complexity of designing and producing a small space suit was prohibitive, and that it was simpler and cheaper to limit EVAs to astronauts that fit medium and large sized suits, rather than adapt the suits to fit small-sized astronauts. Fisher then worked with William B. Lenoir on the development of techniques for repairing the Space Shuttle tiles. She was the Astronaut Office representative for the development and testing of the Remote Manipulator System (RMS) and the testing of payload bay door contingency spacewalk procedures.
For STS-1, the inaugural orbital spaceflight of the Space Shuttle program and the maiden flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia, Abbey decided that the five MDs of the 1978 and 1980 —Fisher, Rhea Seddon and Norman Thagard from the 1978 group, and Bill Fisher and Jim Bagian from the 1980 group—would be assigned to the search and rescue helicopters supporting the flight. These would be required if the Space Shuttle crashed or the astronauts had to eject. Fisher was based at the White Sands Test Facility. She performed this duty again at Edwards Air Force Base for STS-2, at White Sands again for STS-3 and at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for STS-4. For these four missions, Fisher was involved in the verification of flight software at the Shuttle Avionics Integration Laboratory (SAIL). in that capacity she reviewed test requirements and procedures for ascent, on-orbit, and RMS software verification. Fisher was a "Cape Crusader"—one of the astronauts who supported vehicle integrated testing and payload testing at KSC—for STS-5 and STS-6 missions, and the lead Cape Crusader for the June 1983 STS-7 mission.
Fisher became pregnant while working as a Cape Crusader She wanted to have children, and there was no certainty as to when she would be assigned to a space flight. She continued to fly to KSC in NASA T-38 jets until she informed Abbey when she was four and a half months pregnant, and he directed that henceforth she would have to fly on commercial jets, which she found very inconvenient. Four months later, Abbey summoned Fisher and her husband Bill to his office, and informed them that he was assigning her to a flight. This would make her the first mother to fly in space. She gave birth to her daughter, Kristin Anne, was born on Friday, July 29, 1983, and was back at work at JSC on the following Monday.
The public announcement of Fisher's selection and the other members of the crew was made on September 21, 1983. The crew was commanded by Rick Hauck], who had piloted the STS-7 mission, with pilot David M. Walker and mission specialists Fisher, Gardner and Joseph P. Allen. The mission, called STS-41-G, was tentatively scheduled for August 1, 1984. Before her flight, Fisher wanted to perform Capsule communicator (CAPCOM) duties. Hauck was unenthusiastic about this —he wanted his crew to be focused on training for the upcoming mission—but he relented, and Fisher performed CAPCOM duties for STS-9 in November. She used a breast pump during breaks and hired a nanny to help care for Kristin. The crew went to Seattle, Washington, to learn about the Inertial Upper Stage (IUS) from the manufacturer, Boeing, but on the way back they found that the mission payload had been changed and the IUS would not be used. By November the crew was assigned to the STD-41-H mission.
Being in line to become the first mother in space brought additional fame. In February she went to New York City to appear on the Today show. While there she heard that the STS-41-B mission had launched two Hughes HS-376 satellites. After the Payload Assist Module (PAM) of the first failed, leaving it in an unusable orbit, they had gone ahead and launched the second one, and its PAM had failed too. Asked specifically whether NASA would attempt to retrieve the two satellites, Fisher replied categorically that it would not; the HS-376 was the size of a small bus, with solar arrays and an apogee kick motor. It was not designed to be retrieved, so there was nothing for the RMS to grab on to, and NASA had never done anything like it before.
The insurance companies—Lloyd's of London and the International Underwriting Association—convinced NASA to make an attempt to retrieve the two satellites. Hauck's crew was given the mission, which was designated STS-51-A. The mission would only be the fourteenth space Shuttle flight, and NASA was eager to demonstrate its capability. The crew was enthusiastic about the mission but Hauck was much less so. He thought the mission was dangerous and declared that it would be remarkable if they could retrieve one satellites, and a miracle if they could retrieve two.
The method that the NASA engineers and astronauts came up with to capture the satellites with was to use a device they called an Apogee Kick Motor Capture Device or "stinger". Allen would use the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) to fly over to the satellite and place the stinger inside its rocket nozzle of the satellite. It would open it like an umbrella, and take hold of the satellite. One the other end was a grapple feature. Fisher would use the RMS to grab hold of it and maneuver the satellite into the cargo bay of the Space Shuttle Discovery. Allen and Gardner would then have to secure the satellite inside the cargo bay. Since the other two mission specialist were preoccupied with the EVAs, Fisher would also assist the Hauck and Walker as the mission's flight engineer (MS2).
The mission insignia Fisher designed had six stars: five for the crew and one representing Kristin. Reporters asked her how she felt about leaving her child behind; she pointed out that men on her flight were also leaving their children behind.[note 2] In the weeks and months leading up to the flight she recorded a series of videos for Kristin so her daughter would know what her mother was like if she did not come back. STS-51-A was supposed to launch on November 7 but high shear winds in the upper atmosphere forced a 24-hour postponement. Discovery lifted off from Launch Pad 39A at KSC on November 8, 1984, on what was Discovery's second mission. Once Discovery was in orbit, Fisher performed the checkout of the RMS. Like many astronauts, she felt the effects of space adaptation syndrome and did not feel better until the third day. On the second day the crew deployed Telesat Canada's 1,237-kilogram (2,727 lb) Anik D2, an HS 376 communications satellite, using a spring ejection mechanism. This was the first time that a Space Shuttle had deployed a satellite a night. The following day they deployed the U.S. Navy's Leasat 1 satellite using the Frisbee style mechanism that had been used to successfully deploy Leasat 2 on the STS-41-D mission.
On the fifth day of the mission, Discovery rendezvoused with Palapa B2, the first of the two satellites to be recovered. In the weeks leading up to the mission the satellites' onboard motors had been used to lower their orbit and reduce their spin rate to make it easier for the astronauts to retrieve them. Allen was able to fly out to the satellite using the MMU and grab hold of it. He deployed the stinger, and Fisher grappled it with the RMS. But when Gardner went to attach the large clamp, it did not fit; the satellite had not been built exactly according to its specifications. Out of communication with mission control, the crew then came up with another plan. Fisher released the grapple and Allen stood on the footholds on the RMS. Fisher maneuvered it so Allan could manhandle the satellite, and Gardner attached the docking clamp to the bottom. The satellite was then successfully retrieved. The next day they repeated the procedure and retrieved the second satellite, the Westar VI. The crew also operated a Radiation Monitoring Equipment (RME) device and the 3M Company’s Diffusive Mixing of Organic Solutions (DMOS) experiment.
Discovery touched down at KSC on November 6, 1984, after a flight lasting 7 days, 23 hours and 45 minutes, during which it had completed 127 orbits. Lloyd's of London awarded the crew its silver medal for those who "by extraordinary exertions have contributed to the preservation of property from perils of all kind." It had only been awarded five times since World War II, and this was the first time it had been awarded for a salvage operation that was not at sea. The medals were presented by President Ronald Reagan Fisher was named "national mother of the year" by the Father's Day/Mother's Day Council, along with Martha Layne Collins, Clara Hale, Louisa Kennedy, Susan Lucci, Sarah Palfrey, Madge Sinclair and Frederica Von Stade.
In December, Fisher was assigned as mission STS-61-C, a satellite deployment mission. The mission was scheduled to be flown in December 1985 on Columbia and would deploy the Westar 7 communications satellite for Western Union and the Satcom KU-2 communications satellite for RCA. It was to be commanded by Michael L. Coats, with John E. Blaha as the pilot and Norman E. Thagard and Robert C. Springer as mission specialist. Fisher would reprise her role of flight engineer. Subsequently the date slipped and the crew was assigned to mission STS-61-H, which was scheduled to fly, with a different payload, in June 1986. The mission was cancelled in the wake of the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986.
Following the accident, Fisher worked as the Deputy of the Mission Development Branch of the Astronaut Office, and as the astronaut office representative for Flight Data File issues. In that capacity, she served as the crew representative on the Crew Procedures Change Board. Fisher served on the Astronaut Selection Board for NASA Astronaut Group 12 in 1987. Fisher also served in the Space Station Support Office where she worked part-time in the Space Station Operations Branch. She was the crew representative supporting space station development in the areas of training, operations concepts, and the health maintenance facility. During an appearance at UCLA, Fisher mentioned that she had completed all the coursework required for a master's degree in chemistry, but students on the PhD track usually bypass their masters. UCLA checked their records, and the Fisher was awarded her Master of Science degree in Chemistry in 1987. She was initiated as an alumna into the Pi Beta Phi Fraternity for Women in 1989, at the San Diego biennial Convention.
Leave of absence
A second daughter, Kara Lynne, was born in 1989. Kara had the rare distinction of being born after both parents had flown in space. From 1989 to 1995, Fisher took an extended leave from NASA to raise her family. There was no intention to take multiple years off; she took a year at a time. The Fishers divorced in 2000.
When Fisher returned to the Astronaut Office in 1995, she was assigned to the Operations Planning Branch to work on the procedures and training issues in support of the International Space Station (ISS). She was chief of the Operations Planning Branch from June 1997 to June 1998, and deputy chief for operations training in the Space Station Branch from June 1998 to June 1999. In that role, she oversaw Astronaut Office inputs to the space station program regarding operations, procedures and training. She the served as chief of the Space Station Branch. In that capacity, she was involved in issues regarding the design, development, and testing of the ISS hardware.
Fisher also served as the Astronaut Office representative on numerous Space Station Program Boards and Multilateral Boards. She was later assigned to the Shuttle Branch and worked on technical assignments within that branch. In 2012, she briefly made news when, during the landing of Discovery at Washington's Dulles Airport, where it was being retired to the Smithsonian Institution, she advised an aspiring astronaut to "study Russian". At least one commentator suggested this was a veiled criticism of the US government's lack of funding for the space program.
Fisher was a CAPCOM from January 2011 to August 2013, and was the lead CAPCOM for ISS Expedition 33. As a management astronaut, she was involved in the development of the Flight instruments display for the Orion project until her retirement in April 2017.
In popular culture
Before and after her flight assignments Fisher performed many public appearances per year; those included both official duties, such as when she spoke to visitors at the September 22, 2012, open house of NASA's Langley Research Center, and semi-official duties, such as when she was a special guest at the 99th Indianapolis 500 on May 24, 2015. Fisher and Bill appeared together with their daughter Kristin on an August 1983 segment of Good Morning America. The September 1982 issue of The Saturday Evening Post featured a cover photo of Fisher. She was also photographed for the back cover of Red Book magazine.
Outside of the publicity she does herself, her likeness has been widely shared on the Internet and it has been used in various promotions and tribute art. One photograph in particular has become iconic. Photographer John Bryson shot a series of photos of Fisher wearing a helmet and space suit. One shot in the series, in which she is turned farthest away from the camera (almost in complete profile), has been frequently posted, shared, and reposted on social media sites including ffffound.com, and Reddit. The image has since been used to promote the bands MGMT, Incubus, The Arctic Monkeys, Max & Harvey, and The Moth & The Flame. The comments and captions of the Internet posts often reflect confusion about the date[note 3] and the publication history.[note 4]
Awards and honors
- National Science Foundation Undergraduate Research Fellowship (1970, 1971) 
- NASA Space Flight Medal (1984) 
- NASA Exceptional Service Medal (1988, 1998) 
- Lloyd's of London Silver Medal for Meritorious Salvage Operations (1985)
- Mother of the Year Award (1985) 
- UCLA Professional Achievement Award (1986) 
- UCLA Chemistry and Biochemistry Alumni Award (2012) 
- Valentina Tereshkova and Andriyan Nikolayev had married in 1963 after both had flown in space.
- Dale Gardner had a son a few months older than Kristin; all the others had older children.
- The date the photo was taken has yet to be corroborated. The photographer, John Bryson, died in 2005. Fisher, and her then husband Bill, were photographed at Johnson Space Center in November 1977 when they were both civilians; Bryson is credited as their photographer. It is possible Bryson photographed Fisher on multiple occasions, but that has yet to verified. There are at least three photos of Fisher in a space helmet that have been credited to Bryson. In two photos she is in almost complete profile (the main difference is her entire left eye can be seen in one and not the other). In the third, she is looking into the camera. The photo of her in near complete profile is the viral shot. In 2011 Bryson's son Scott - who commemorates his dad's work online - posted that he could not verify the provenance of the popular photo. The only publicly available archive of Bryson's work is at The Briscoe Center for American History at The University of Texas. The guide to the archive, posted online in 2015, has no mention of Fisher, NASA, or visits to Houston. A different photo in NASA's archives, showing Fisher at a NASA publicity event in Houston, is dated January 31, 1978.
- In addition to the contradictory dates, there is also confusion about its publication history. The photo became massively popular on the internet after it was cross-posted from Blogger to Tumblr on June 19, 2009, by Calvin of Calvin's Cave of Cool. Calvin's original post has been deleted and it is not known where he got it from, but fellow Blogger user Thomas Haller Buchanan posted the photo to Blogger on April 16, 2009, three months before Calvin did. This is the earliest known posting of the image. Buchanan and many subsequent commenters claimed that the image was in (or alternately on the cover of) the May 1985 issue of Life Magazine. This was not the case. John Bryson's son, Scott, contacted Time/Life and they rejected those claims. Scott Bryson has speculated elsewhere that the original negative may have been lost by Sygma or lost when "near riots broke out in the Paris office". Sygma has been sued by photographers in the past for losing images.
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- Sample Reddit discussions include "The first mother in space Anna Lee Fisher". May 20, 2012. Archived from the original on May 23, 2012., "Stunning photo of astronaut Anna Fisher from Life". July 27, 2013. Archived from the original on August 7, 2013., and "Stunning photo of astronaut Anna Fisher from Life". June 23, 2015. Archived from the original on September 29, 2020..
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These six mission specialist astronaut candidates are the first women ASCANs to be named by NASA. They are, left to right, Rhea Seddon, Anna L. Fisher, Judith A. Resnik, Shannon W. Lucid, Sally K. Ride and Kathryn D. Sullivan.
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