Captain Wendy B. Lawrence ’81, USN (Ret.)

A member of only the second class in Naval Academy history to include women, Captain Wendy B. Lawrence ’81, USN (Ret.), was the daughter and granddaughter of Naval Academy graduates and spent much of her childhood without her father, a prisoner of war in Vietnam who later became the Academy’s 49th Superintendent and a Distinguished Graduate himself. She went on to rank 12th in her graduating class, became instrumental in forming the women’s crew team, served as deputy Brigade Commander and earned one of just five naval aviator billets available to women in her class.

Captain Lawrence was designated as a naval aviator in July 1982. She served as special weapons training officer, detachment maintenance officer and squadron Naval Air Training and Procedures Standardization officer at Helicopter Support Squadron Six (HC-6) in Norfolk, VA. She was one of the first two female helicopter pilots to make an extended deployment to the Indian Ocean as part of a carrier battle group and accumulated more than 1,000 hours in the H-46 helicopter.

Captain Lawrence was selected for the Secretary of the Navy master’s degree program in ocean sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. After completion of her degree, she was assigned to Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 30 as officer-in-charge of Detachment ALFA. Her detachment deployed on Chauvenet and provided support to Oceanographic Unit 5 for coastal surveying operations off of Kenya and Vieques Island, Puerto Rico.

Captain Lawrence returned to the Academy in 1990 to serve as a physics and leadership instructor and novice women’s crew coach. She coached the 1994 and 1995 novice women’s crew teams to first and second place finishes, respectively, at the Dad Vail Regatta, equivalent to the NCAA Division II Championship.

Selected by NASA in 1992, Captain Lawrence reported to the Johnson Space Center. The first active duty female naval officer selected for the astronaut program, she qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist.

Captain Lawrence flew as the ascent/entry flight engineer and the blue shift orbit pilot on STS-67, the second flight of the ASTRO observatory. During this 16-day mission, she maintained orbiter systems and executed nearly 200 orbiter maneuvers in support of astronomical observations of distant galaxies. In so doing, she realized her 25-year dream of becoming an astronaut and flying in space, and became the first Navy helicopter pilot to do so.

Captain Lawrence volunteered for the Shuttle/Mir program, a joint effort between NASA and the Russian Space Agency that paired NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts on long-duration missions on the Russian space station Mir. In 1996, she reported to the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia where she served as the NASA Director of Operations and trained as a backup crewmember for one of these long duration missions. Because of her extensive knowledge and experience with Mir systems and crew transfer logistics, she then flew on two shuttle missions that docked with the Russian space station.Her final shuttle mission was on Discovery. The first shuttle mission following the Columbia accident, this flight evaluated new procedures for shuttle inspection and repair and performed three spacewalks while docked with the International Space Station. Before retiring from NASA in 2006, Captain Lawrence logged more than 1,225 hours in space.Today Captain Lawrence works at Space Camp and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, informing the public about NASA’s spaceflight programs and participating in STEM education programs. She has served the Academy as a member of the Distinguished Graduate Award selection panel, a U.S. Naval Academy Foundation Athletic and Scholarship Programs Trustee and member of the U.S. Naval Academy Alumni Association’s Memorial Oversight Committee. She also serves on the University of Washington Bothell Campus Advisory Board. 

She lives in Ferndale, WA, with her spouse, Cathy Watson.