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Selected by NASA in May 1984, Thornton is a veteran of four space flights: STS-33 in 1989, STS-49 in 1992, STS-61 in 1993, and STS-73 in 1995. She has logged over 975 hours in space, including more than 21 hours of extravehicular activity (EVA).
Thornton was a mission specialist on the crew of STS-33 which launched at night from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, in 1989 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. The mission carried Department of Defense payloads and other secondary payloads. In 1992 on her second flight, Thornton served on the crew of STS-49 on board the maiden flight of the new Space Shuttle Endeavour. During the mission the crew performed four EVAs (space walks) to retrieve, repair and deploy the International Telecommunications Satellite (INTELSAT), and to demonstrate and evaluate numerous EVA tasks to be used for the assembly of Space Station Freedom. The following year Thornton was again a mission specialist EVA crew member aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on the STS-61 Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing and repair mission. During the 11-day flight, the HST was captured and restored to full capacity through a five space walks by four astronauts. On her final mission in 1995, Thornton served aboard Space Shuttle Columbia on STS-73, as the payload commander of the second United States Microgravity Laboratory mission. The mission focused on materials science, biotechnology, combustion science, the physics of fluids, and other scientific experiments housed in the pressurized Spacelab module.
Since leaving NASA, Thornton has served on several NASA review committees and task groups, including the Return to Flight Task Group which evaluated NASA’s work in meeting goals set by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board prior to resumption of Space Shuttle flights. In 2008 Thornton co-chaired a workshop entitled “Examining the Vision for Space Exploration” held at Stanford University and subsequently testified on the results before the Committee on Science and Technology, Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics of the U.S. House of Representatives. She served on the National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board, and as a member or co-chair of several NRC studies. She is currently on the board of the Space Foundation and the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation and also is co-author on Pearson’s Interactive Science, a K-8 science program.
Dr. Thornton is the recipient of numerous awards including NASA Space Flight Medals, the Explorer Club Lowell Thomas Award, the National Astronautics Association Robert J. Collier Trophy,, the Freedom Foundation Freedom Spirit Award, and the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. She was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 2010.
Professor Thornton at NASA’s Space Shuttle Flight 47