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Her-Story, Then: Sylvia Earle

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Kate Mulgrew: A decade after Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the moon, Sylvia Earle earned the title Her Deepness by descending 1250 feet, taking our deepest steps on the ocean floor. I am Kate Mulgrew with her story. [music 00:16]

The request for proposals didn't say men only, so 34 year old Sylvia Earle applied for the opportunity to live underwater for six weeks, conducting research with a team of aquanauts. This was 1969, and the review board for the government's Tektite program could not imagine men and women working and living together in such close quarters.

They turned her down, but made her the team leader for Tektite Two, a project for women researchers. These aquanauts, or aqua-babes as they were known, received quite a bit of media attention. They performed groundbreaking work on the effects of pollution on coral reefs.

The Tektite Two expedition prompted NASA to open its astronaut-training program to women. Suddenly, the world knew about Sylvia Earle. But by then Earle was already an accomplished scientist and adventurer. With a PhD. in marine botany, she had explored oceans around the world, studying aquatic life, and logging over 1, 000 hours of underwater research, all while raising two children.

Earle sunk to the lowest depths of her profession in 1979, walking 1250 feet under water, deeper than anyone has ever gone. The dive earned her the title 'Her Deepness'. She went on to develop marine technologies like submersible Rovers, helping scientists reach greater depths than ever before.

Using satellite images, maps, and photography, Earle produced the first atlas of Earth's oceans. In 1991, Sylvia Earle took time off from her research to serve as Chief Scientist of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

She returned to scientific work, but continues to be a voice for the world's oceans, educating the public on the importance of protecting the aqua sphere and the creatures that inhabit it.

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Her story is made possible by the National Science Foundation.

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