Kathryn Thornton, a native of Alabama, earned her B.S. in physics at Auburn University and her M.S. and PhD in physics at the University of Virginia. She was awarded a NATO Postdoctoral Fellowship to continue her research at the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, Germany. Upon completion of the fellowship she returned to Charlottesville and worked as an intelligence analyst at the U.S. Army Foreign Science and Technology Center.
Selected as a NASA astronaut in May 1984, Thornton is a veteran of four space shuttle flights including the first Hubble Space Telescope service mission in 1993. She has logged 975 hours in space, and more than 21 hours of extravehicular activity (spacewalks).
In 1996 Thornton again returned to Charlottesville and to the University of Virginia. She is currently a Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. She also served 12 years as the Associate Dean for Graduate Programs in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Since leaving NASA, Thornton has served on several review committees and task groups, most recently 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. She also served for several years on the National Research Council Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and is a 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, Explorer Club Lowell Thomas Award, University of Virginia Distinguished Alumna Award, Auburn University Lifetime Achievement Award, Freedom Foundation Freedom Spirit Award, and the National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. In 2010 she was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame, only the third woman to hold this honor.