When NASA announced the retirement of astronaut Anna Lee Fisher late last month, it signaled the end of an extraordinary career of one of the longest-serving pioneers of America’s space program.
Anna Lee Fisher, known as the “First Mom in Space,” was not only one of the original group of six NASA female astronauts in 1978, but at retirement she became the last member, of any gender, of the first space shuttle crew to retire from the space program.
Her eight-day journey into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1984, when her daughter was 9 months old, made her a role model for women wanting to pursue both a challenging career in a male-dominated field and motherhood. And the iconic image of Anna Lee in a space helmet, published in Life Magazine in 1985, propelled her image as a symbol of women’s aspirations and achievements into the stratosphere.
To celebrate her extraordinary life and career, her daughter, Emmy-winning newscaster Kristin Fisher, will be flown from the nation’s Capitol by her network to appear with her mother on Friday, May 12 at 7 p.m. at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville. The two will share stories and video, and engage in a Q&A with the audience regarding the early days of the space program, and the challenges faced by those trailblazing first women in space and the families they left back on Earth.
Kristin will talk about her experiences growing up in Houston as the child of not one but two astronauts: her father, William, was a mission specialist on Discovery’s sixth flight.
Anna Lee and Kristin have a way of conveying extraordinary experiences through unforgettable details. Ever wonder what early women astronauts packed in their hygiene kits (hint: it includes mascara) or about the role they played in development of the disposable diaper? Curious about the dangers faced by a modern-day female reporter camped outside Mar-a-Lago covering President Trump? (hint: it involves giant iguanas and a poisonous caterpillar) The two Fishers will reveal all.
Their appearance on May 12 launches a planned In Conversation speaker series at the Napa Valley Museum.
“I was introduced to Anna Lee Fisher by Gary Jaffe, owner of Jaffe Estate Wines in St Helena, which boasts the only private research-grade observatory in the Napa Valley, and whose guests are often a who’s-who of the space and astrophysics set,” said Laura Rafaty, Napa Valley Museum executive director.
“Anna held me spellbound with her hilarious and thrilling stories about her days in the space program, working with colleagues like Jim Lovell, Ken Mattingly and Sally Ride. I was particularly interested in her perspective on Russia, which she had visited as part of her work with NASA in an era of cooperation between our two countries. I think audiences of all ages will find both Anna Lee and Kristin to be utterly captivating.“
A doctor and chemist, Anna Lee was accustomed to being a rare woman in her math and chemistry classes. While in her surgical internship, she was encouraged by her then-fiancé (later her husband) to join him in applying to NASA’s space shuttle program. She appeared at her interview wearing a green velour jumpsuit, in a room full of men wearing coats and ties. Daughter Kristin later posted a photo of herself on Facebook wearing the same jumpsuit, asking: “This is what my mom wore to the most important interview of her life. Can you believe it?”
She was selected as one of six women out of 35 members of NASA Astronaut Group 8 – also known as the “TFNG or 35 New Guys,” a group selected almost 10 years after the Apollo 7 astronaut Group 7. The women, all of whom held advanced degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) or medicine, were selected because of NASA’s shifting focusing away from military pilots and toward those with academic backgrounds. Aware of the dangers of that first mission, but determined to make the flight, Anna Lee had video made so that her daughter would know who she was, should the worst happen.
During her Discovery shuttle mission, which not only launched two satellites into space but was also the first salvage mission, Anna Lee operated the robotic arm that retrieved two satellites for their return to Earth. After that initial flight, she returned to space for three major missions. She had a second daughter, Kara, while sidelined after the Challenger disaster, and took an extended leave from NASA mid-career to raise her two children. In addition to the shuttle program, Anna Lee also worked on the International Space Station, where she was Chief of the Space Station branch, and on NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
Kristin Fisher is a Washington, D.C.-based correspondent for the Fox News Channel. She reported live from campaign headquarters during the 2016 presidential election, and covers the White House (and the aforementioned Florida “Winter White House”) as part of her regular beat. She was formerly a reporter and video journalist with WUSA-TV, and won an Emmy award in 2010 for her bi-weekly segments on heroes in Washington.
As a woman who has observed and championed the progress of women for over three decades from a unique vantage point, Anna Lee also has the rare distinction of having observed Earth from the distance of outer space.
“As the general population gets to go into space, maybe they’ll understand why it’s just so amazing and be able to see our planet from the vantage point that we have been able to see it, and hopefully realize that there’s one little planet of ours in this vast blackness of space and that we need to take care of it, and of each other,” she says.
“First Mom in Space” is on May 12 at 7 p.m. at the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville. Doors open at 6 p.m. for sparkling cider and wine from sponsor Jaffe Estate Wines; the event is also sponsored by the Napa Valley Opera House Community Programs and Wine Country Inn.
Ticketholders can come early and enjoy free admission to the museum’s two premiering exhibits: Paul Dresher’s “Sound Maze” and “Like Mother, Like Son: Geoff and Phoebe Ellsworth.” Both Dresher and Ellsworth will be at the museum from 4 to 7 p.m. on May 12 to meet the public.
Tickets are available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/first-mom-in-space-astronaut-anna-lee-fisher-with-daughter-kristin-fisher-tickets-33649057236; more information at www.napavalleymuseum.org