Vanessa O'Brien

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Vanessa O'Brien
Vanessa O'Brien in 2015
Born (1964-12-02) 2 December 1964 (age 59)
NationalityBritish and American (Dual-citizenship)
Alma materNew York University Stern School of Business
Occupation(s)Mountaineer, Sub-orbital spaceflight participant, Explorer, Aquanaut and Author
Known for
Notable workTo The Greatest Heights
SpouseJonathan O'Brien
  • FAA Human Spaceflight Recognition (2022)[1]
  • New York State Citation of Honor (2021)
  • 6 Guinness World Record in 2022 (1), 2020 (3), 2017 (1), 2013 (1)
  • Fearless Girl Award (2019)
  • SES Explorer of The Year (2018)
Space career
Blue Origin Sub-orbital spaceflight Participant
Flight time
10 minutes, 20 seconds
MissionsBlue Origin NS-22
Mission insignia

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien (born 2 December 1964) is a British and American mountaineer, sub-orbital spaceflight participant, explorer, author and former business executive.[2] On 4 August 2022, O'Brien became the first woman to complete the Explorers’ Extreme Trifecta – reaching extremes on land, sea, and air after she passed the Kármán line as part of Blue Origin NS-22 spaceflight.[3] On 12 June 2020, O'Brien became the first woman to reach Earth's highest and lowest points, receiving a Guinness World Record.[4] She became the first American woman to climb K2 and the first British[5][6][7] woman to climb K2 and return safely (as a result of her dual nationality) on 28 July 2017, successfully leading a team of 12 members to the summit and back on her third attempt.[8][9][10] She is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) and an Honorary Advisory Member of The Scientific Exploration Society (SES).[11]

O'Brien received a Fearless Girl Award in 2019 and was awarded Explorer of The Year in 2018 by SES.[12] She set a Guinness World Record for climbing the highest peak on every continent in 295 days, the fastest time by a woman.[13] O'Brien has also skied the last 60 nautical miles or 111 km to the South Pole and North Pole completing the Explorers Grand Slam in 11 months,[14][15] becoming the first woman to do so in under a calendar year and the 8th woman in the world to accomplish this.[16]

Early life[edit]

Vanessa Audi Rhys O'Brien was born on 2 December 1964 and grew up in Grosse Pointe Farms, Michigan.


O'Brien attended New York University School of Professional Studies (SPS) where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Executive MBA in Finance from New York University Stern School of Business.[17] Vanessa O'Brien was named one of the Top 10 most famous NYU Stern MBA's in 2021.[18]


O'Brien worked as a Director of Finance and Business Development for Morgan Stanley, Barclays Bank, and the Bank of America.[19][20]

Ambassador, board and research roles[edit]

NS-22 astronaut Vanessa O'Brien, wearing a wireless MRI device, scans her brain following her mission on August 4, 2022.

O'Brien is an Honorary Advisory Board member of the Scientific Exploration Society.[21] She is also a Community Ambassador for the outdoor equipment company, Arc'Teryx, Soho, New York, and a Goodwill Ambassador for Pakistan,[22] an Honorary Ambassador of the US Nepal Climbers Association Inc.,[23] and is an active member of The American Alpine Club. O'Brien previously held board positions at The Explorers Club, the American Pakistan Foundation, and was a former advisory board member for Thomson Safaris.[24][25] O'Brien has contributed to a number of research and scientific projects including investigating the effects of nocturnal hypoxic exposure on high-altitude mountaineering (Explorers Club Flag No. 206 to Manaslu's summit at 26,759 feet[26]), testing the thinning of high altitude glaciers (Explorers Club Flag #132 to the Godwin-Austen Glacier at 16,500 feet[27]), and illustrating the impact of climate change at the equator in advance of COP21 in conjunction with Project 25Zero.[28]

Vanessa is a global ambassador for iMedisync, a digital mental health care platform company, that provides early detection and treatment of MCI (mild cognitive impairment), dementia, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease.[29] O'Brien's use of MRI imaging pre and post spaceflights showed less activity in the Parietal Lobe indicating a loss of self, and a more connected or "at-one-with-the-world" state of mind.[30]

Summits and poles[edit]

Having trekked to Mount Everest base camp and reached the summits of a number of notable mountains, including five of the world's fourteen 8,000-meter peaks (Shishapangma, Everest, Cho Oyu, Manaslu, and K2), including summiting two eight thousanders back-to-back just 8 days apart (Shishapangma and Cho Oyu), O'Brien decided to build on her passion for mountaineering and set herself the challenge of achieving the Explorers Grand Slam.[31] The Explorers Grand Slam entails reaching the Seven Summits, the North and South Poles, as well as meeting the Three Pole Challenge.[32]

Challenger Deep[edit]

O'Brien joined Caladan Oceanic's Ring of Fire expedition to the Pacific Ocean to survey the bottom of the three pools that constitute Challenger Deep in partnership with NOAA.[33] On 12 June 2020, Victor Vescovo and O'Brien descended to the "Eastern Pool" of Challenger Deep spending three hours mapping the bottom, with the dive scanning approximately one mile of desolate bottom terrain, finding that the surface is not flat, as once was thought, but sloping, and by about 18 ft (5.5 m), subject to verification.[34]

Suborbital Spaceflight[edit]

O'Brien flew aboard Blue Origin NS-22, receiving FAA human spaceflight recognition, on 4 August 2022.[35][1] For the sixth time in its 20-year history, Blue Origin successfully launched humans on a sub-orbital spaceflight on the New Shepard 22 mission. The five humans that flew with O'Brien included Coby Cotton, Mário Ferreira, Clint Kelly III, Sara Sabry, and Steve Young, flying to a height of 107 km above Mean Sea Level (351,232 ft MSL). The crew endured 3,603 km/h (2,239 mph) during ascent and flew for a total of 10 minutes and 20 seconds.[36] This was the first spaceflight of Blue Origin involving two female crew members, and Vanessa O’Brien carried the UN Women's flag.[3]

Other sports[edit]

After taking the American Red Cross flag to the North Pole in 2013,[32] O'Brien completed the Boston Marathon in 2017 to help the American Red Cross raise over $512,000 for charity.[37][38]

O'Brien has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2018 covering The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Four-Wide Nationals at zMAX Dragway in Charlotte, NC: Don Schumacher, Leah Pritchett, Tony Schumacher, and Antron Brown.[39][40][41] O'Brien also has the following photography credits at Forbes magazine for Motorsports in 2015 covering Pocono Raceway: Justin Wilson, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, and Sage Karam.[42][43][44][45] Additional photos include Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi, Mike Hull, and Pippa Mann.[46][47][48][49]

Mountaineering expeditions[edit]

O'Brien on top of K2 Summit, Northern Pakistan, 8,611m, on 28 July 2017, at the moment she becomes the first American woman to summit K2
The Seven Summits 2
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Kilimanjaro 19,340 ft. 10 March 2013 Africa
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
Denali 20,320 ft. 19 June 2012 N. America
Elbrus 18,510 ft. 15 July 2012 Europe
Carstensz Pyramid 16,023 ft. 23 September 2012 Oceania
Kosciuszko 7,310 ft. 3 October 2012 Australia
Vinson Massif 16,050 ft. 5 December 2012 Antarctica
Aconcagua 22,841 ft. 20 January 2013 S. America
Three Poles Challenge
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 29,035 ft. 19 May 2012 Asia
South Pole 89 Degree 15 December 2012 Antarctica
North Pole 89 Degree 16 April 2013 Arctic Ocean
Other Expeditions
Mountain Height Date Climbed Location
Everest 18,500 ft. 28 April 2010 Asia (Nepal)
Shishapangma (Central) 26,273 ft. 4 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Cho Oyu 26,906 ft. 12 October 2011 Asia (Tibet)
Lobuche East 19,700 ft. 14 April 2012 Asia (Nepal)
Mont Blanc 15,781 ft. 25 June 2014 Europe
Manaslu 26,759 ft. 25 September 2014 Asia (Nepal)
Cayambe 18,996 ft. 30 May 2016 Ecuador
Chimborazo 20,564 ft. 6 June 2016 Ecuador
K2[10] 28,251 ft. 28 July 2017 Asia (Pakistan)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "FAA Commercial Human Spaceflight Recognition". Federal Aviation Administration. Retrieved 21 September 2022.
  2. ^ "First Woman to Reach Earth's Highest and Lowest Points Carries Pakistan's Flag". World News TV United Kingdom. 16 June 2020. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  3. ^ a b Mitib, Ali. "British-American adventurer makes triple triumph of space, land and sea records". The Times. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  4. ^ "Explorer becomes first woman to reach Earth's highest and lowest points". MSN. Retrieved 19 June 2020.
  5. ^ "Hero mountain climber visits British High Commission". Diplomatic News Agency (DNA) News. 15 August 2017. Retrieved 15 August 2017.
  6. ^ Starkey, Jerome. "Mountaineers' first woman leader at the summit after bitter struggle". The Times. Retrieved 18 June 2018.
  7. ^ Clash, James. "New peaks to climb". Forbes. Retrieved 10 January 2010.
  8. ^ Pokhrel, Rajan (28 July 2017). "Vanessa O'Brien, John Snorri set record as 12 scale Mt K2". The Himalayan Times. Retrieved 28 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Vanessa O'Brien becomes the first British-American woman to climb K2". Dunya News. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  10. ^ a b Samaa Web Desk. "British-American woman conquers K2, holds Pakistan flag atop". Samaa TV. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  11. ^ "On Top Of The World" (PDF). Vanessa O'Brien, FRGS. Winged Foot Magazine.
  12. ^ "SES Explorer Awards 2018". The Scientific Exploration Society. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
  13. ^ "Mountaineering" (PDF). Guinness Book of World Records 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  14. ^ "Boston's Vanessa O'Brien Completes 'Explorers Grand Slam' in Record Time". Boston Globe. April 2013.
  15. ^ "Woman Completes Explorer's Grand Slam in Record Time". May 2013. Archived from the original on 27 August 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  16. ^ "Seven Summits Climber Continues to the Ends of the Earth to Reach Goal". March 2013. Archived from the original on 30 June 2013.
  17. ^ Bruno, Teresa (11 December 2020). "The Graduate: Vanessa O'Brien". The Stern Opportunity. Retrieved 11 December 2020.
  18. ^ Cook, Shannon (8 July 2021). "NYU Notable Alumni 10 Famous MBAs From NYU Stern". Business Because. Retrieved 8 July 2021.
  19. ^ "Boston woman tackles peaks at a record pace". Boston Globe. April 2013. Archived from the original on 2 February 2019. Retrieved 22 June 2017.
  20. ^ "Boston College Club Woman Vanessa O'Brien to Become the First Woman to Complete the Explorer's Grand Slam". January 2013. Archived from the original on 25 August 2017. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  21. ^ "Honoorary Award Winners 2018". Scientific Exploration Society. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  22. ^ "First British woman who conquered K-2, brings Pakistani flag to the High Commission". High Commission for Pakistan London. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 29 August 2017.
  23. ^ "USNCA Members – Honorary Ambassador". US Nepal Climbers Association. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  24. ^ "American Pakistan Foundation Confirms Vanessa O'Brien to the Board of Directors". American Pakistan Foundation. Archived from the original on 10 June 2018. Retrieved 3 October 2016.
  25. ^ "Advisory Board". Thomson Treks. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  26. ^ "The Explorers Log" (PDF). The Official Newsletter of the Explorers Club. 46 (4): 22, 24, 26, 27. Fall 2014.
  27. ^ "The Explorers Club Log, Fall 2015" (PDF). The Explorers Club. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  28. ^ Taylor, Andrew (14 September 2015). "Australian Museum's Tim Jarvis leads mountain climbs to campaign on climate change". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 14 September 2015.
  29. ^ "iMedicin, Measuring the brain waves of astronauts". iMediSync. Retrieved 23 August 2022.
  30. ^ Clash, Jim. "Private-Sector Space Experiments Could Add To Mankind's Knowledge Bank. Keep An Open Mind". Forbes. Retrieved 21 October 2022.
  31. ^ "Vanessa O'Brien: What Attracted me was the Goal". May 2013.
  32. ^ a b "Loren's Badass Chick of the Week: Vanessa O'Brien". May 2013. Archived from the original on 4 December 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2013.
  33. ^ Allen, Monica (7 April 2020). "NOAA teams with pioneering explorer to understand and map the deepest parts of the ocean". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce. Retrieved 7 April 2020.
  34. ^ Whitelocks, Sadie (16 June 2020). "Explorer becomes the first woman to reach the highest and lowest points on the planet". Metro UK. Retrieved 16 June 2020.
  35. ^ "Blue Origin launches sixth New Shepard crewed suborbital flight". SpaceNews. 4 August 2022. Retrieved 4 August 2022.
  36. ^ Desisto, Austin (6 August 2022). "NS-22 New Shepard". Everyday Astronaut. Retrieved 6 August 2022.
  37. ^ "2017 Boston Marathon Results". Boston Globe. Archived from the original on 21 April 2017. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  38. ^ "American Red Cross Massachusetts' Fundraiser: Team Red Cross 2017". Crowd Rise. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  39. ^ Clash, Jim. "Drag Racing Legend Don Schumacher Is Afraid Of Spiders But Not Much Else". Forbes. Retrieved 1 May 2018.
  40. ^ Clash, Jim. "Four Questions for NHRA Top-Fuel Drag Racing Star Leah Pritchett". Forbes. Retrieved 7 May 2018.
  41. ^ Clash, Jim. "An Interview With The Great Don Schumacher". Forbes. Retrieved 30 April 2018.
  42. ^ Clash, Jim. "Verizon IndyCar Racer Justin Wilson Dies Of Head Injuries From Pocono 500 Race Sunday". Forbes. Retrieved 24 August 2015.
  43. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Immersion Program: My 190-MPH Wild Ride With Mario Andretti". Forbes. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  44. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Legend Rick Mears Before Sonoma Championship Shoot-Out: Be Patient". Forbes. Retrieved 27 August 2015.
  45. ^ Clash, Jim. "Lifestyle SEP 1, 2015 @ 09:11 PM 5,106 The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets IndyCar Rookie Sensation Sage Karam After Fatal Pocono Crash (Fourth in a series)". Forbes. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  46. ^ Clash, Jim. "Scott Dixon Ecstatic And Mournful As Newly Crowned IndyCar Champ". Forbes. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  47. ^ Clash, Jim. "Chip Ganassi's Philosophy Key To Dixon's 2015 IndyCar Championship". Forbes. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  48. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar Team Target Chip Ganassi's Secret Weapon: Mike Hull". Forbes. Retrieved 7 September 2015.
  49. ^ Clash, Jim. "IndyCar's Pippa Mann On Breast Cancer, Racing Macho Men". Forbes. Retrieved 16 October 2015.

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